While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aptly hyped Silicon Valley trip is sure to spark new tech investments in India it may also create new opportunities for the Indian localization industry. The opportunities could be both direct and indirect and they may not be limited to Information and Communication Technology sector alone.
Most important commitments for investment, infrastructure development and citizens’ empowerment have been made by Microsoft and Google. If things continue to move in the right direction, Apple too could pleasantly surprise us by setting up a manufacturing unit in India. Tesla may chip in as well. Facebook, which was at the center-stage during the PM’s visit, is already trying hard to expand its reach and scope in the country. There are certain holes in its Internet.org approach but expect a lot of action at Facebook's India office as it spends time and energy in connecting with the real India.
What I am most excited about is the announcement made by Microsoft. The size and scope of its commitment is gigantic. As a keen observer of the business of technology, I can identify a shift in Microsoft’s strategy here. Not only is it venturing into an altogether new area by creating infrastructure for providing Wi-Fi connectivity across India but it is going to create a valuable conduit for supply and consumption of services at a pan India scale. Microsoft has been working on Television White Space Broadband Technology for quite some time and no place on earth can provide better opportunities for its commercial implementation than India.
That the Redmond based giant is ready to scale its operations in the connectivity at a big scale further underlines its changing approach towards embracing emerging opportunities beyond the product and services space. Connecting 500 thousand Indian Panchayats (rural local bodies) is no small task but when Microsoft finishes the project, it is bound to enjoy a phenomenal reach in India. The expansive infrastructure can create enormous business opportunities for Microsoft.
Opportunities for localization are going to be an integral part of this digital expansion. The market and users it will generate will come from rural India where products and services will have to be delivered in almost all Indian languages. While the largest opportunity will obviously be created for the union and state governments and Microsoft itself, other players such as Google and Facebook who deal with people at a mass scale too will benefit in a big way. A very important aspect of this development however deals with the content these newly created channels are supposed to serve and distribute. Irrespective of the crux of the narrative, one thing is clear that the delivery has to be made in Indian languages if one is seriously looking to make things more productive and engaging.
Google’s announcement of providing free Wi-Fi service at 500 Indian railway stations hints at similar prospects. It is set to benefit a whopping one million people every day and again the linguistic diversity of our people would come into play as far as consuming the content and utilizing the services is concerned. The company is going to enable users of 11 Indian languages to type in their own local languages on Android smartphones.
This is good news as a very simple limitation such as being unable to type in your own language may keep you deprived from the benefits that information revolution brings. We need to expand the horizon of our thinking on this issue though. Even though an average Indian is a bit too obsessed with input methods, we have to plan tasks beyond typing skills. How will people benefit in their real life after they acquire basic tech skills such as typing, content-consuming and participating in the communication mechanism is more important. If the Microsofts, Googles, Facebooks and governments plan the next phase of these efforts in advance, the benefits emerging out of Sh. Modi's Silicon Valley visit may bode very well for the average Indian user, our local languages and the localization industry.