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Ethiopic Keyboard Standard for Smart Phones and Tablets

The word Ethiopic refers to Geez (also written as Ge'ez). Geez, the ancient language of Ethiopia, belonging to the Semitic family is a root language to Amharic, Tigre and Tigrinya. Many languages in Ethiopia and Eritrea like Geez, Amharic and Tigrinya use Ethiopic characters. Ethiopic Keyboard applies to a keyboard used to type Ethiopic characters like Amharic, Tigrinya and Geez texts.

This article gathered and compiled different modern smart phone and tablet keyboard standards, and Amharic language processing research outcomes, and presents in a way that it is suitable to Ethiopian culture and technology as Ethiopic Keyboard Standard to anyone want to build Ethiopic Keyboard for mobile devices. This standard can be used for Ethiopic Keyboards targeting iOS, Windows, and Android smart phones and tablets.

1. Keyboard Keys

Since smart phones and tablets are small in size, a perfect keyboard layout is crucial for best user experience. Ethiopic keyboard keys should be defaulted to the mostly typed alphabets in the language.  Research shows that the most written and spoken alphabets of Amharic language are the Sadis characters, so Amharic keyboard should be defaulted to Sadis characters.

Amharic Keyboard for iOS

2. Alphabet Order on Ethiopic Keyboard

There are two alphabet order systems in Amharic scripting; The Geez 'Abegede' (አበገደ), and 'Haleha' (ሀለሐ) orders. The 'Haleha' (ሀለሐ) alphabet order is the most common one and familiar to almost every Amharic, Tigrinya and Geez writter. Ethiopic keyboard should apply the most known and easy to remember alphabet order on the keyboard layout. Due to large number of characters in Ethiopic scripting, introducing a new alphabet order on the keyboard will confuse the user and makes typing cumbersome. It is highly recommended to follow the 'Haleha' (ሀለሐ) alphabet order on the phone keyboard.   

3. Use Popover for Multi-Level Keys

There are more than 250 different Ethiopic characters. Arranging all these characters on a keyboard is a bit tricky. A keyboard developer can use a Popover user interface component on the main keyboard layout in order to display multi-level keys. It is a bad design to show another keyboard layout just for the sub keys as it requires multiple tapping just to type a single key. Users should be able to type a key on a single tap and of course, with swiping. Each Ethiopic alphabet has 7 or 8 sub keys (Geez: አዕጹቅ), these are (ግዕዝ, ካዕብ, ሳልስ, ራብዕ, ሐምስ, ሳድስ,  ሳብዕ, and ዘመደ ራብዕ). The popover bar must accommodate maximum of 8 characters. Multi-level keys should be selected by swiping left or right any where at the bottom of the selected key. Ethiopic keyboard should detect finger position and select the corresponding key on the popover bar. This makes the sub keys visible to the user.

4. Use of Shift Key

A shift key in Amharic Keyboard should serve to switch between phonetically similar character sets. Labels must be clearly displayed to show the shift key character on each key changing by shift key. After each shift key character insertion the keyboard must set back to the original layout and the shift key should be on inactive state.

Amharic Keyboard for iOS

5. Character Sets

Ethiopic keyboard should at least contain set of all Ethiopic Alphabets, Ethiopic Numerals and decimal digits, Ethiopic Punctuations, Currency Symbols, and special characters. The decimal digits (0-9), special characters like question mark (?), hyphen (-), and brackets () are commonly used in Ethiopic writing system. Extended Ethiopic characters should be provided on a separate keyboard layout.

Amharic Keyboard for iOS

6. Double Tapping Space Bar

The Keyboard should insert Ethiopic period (።) upon double tapping the space bar.

Amharic Keyboard for iOS

7. Advanced Features

7.1 Spellchecker

Ethiopic keyboard can provide a spellcheck functionality. Ethiopic spellchecker requires algorithms specific to the nature of the language you are targeting and users typing experience. The spellchecker should provide suggestions as you type a misspelled word. The keyboard can provide four suggestions for landscape or large screen layouts.

7.2 Predictive Typing

Ethiopic Keyboard can provide predictive typing functionality. It should provide next word suggestion upon typing word delimiters like (space, ።, ፣, ?, ፡, etc). Your algorithm should be developed with respect to Ethiopian culture and should not lead users to un-ethical text. It should be appropriate for minors and children as well.

7.3. Multilingual Keyboard

Ethiopic characters are used by Amharic, Tigrinya and Geez languages. If you want to support more than one language, you either create one keyboard per language or create a single multilingual keyboard, dynamically switching languages. The keyboard should provide a way to switch to another keyboard like a globe key.

7.3 Ethiopic Font

Ethiopic Keyboard can provide Ethiopic font for devices which do not have built in Ethiopic fonts like iOS systems. The font payload should be a separate installation from the keyboard installation. This gives opportunity to users to change fonts without affecting the keyboard app. Use Unicode compatible Ethiopic font, and your program codes should be Unicode compatible.

7.4 Security Considerations

It is our believe that users privacy and data security must not be considered as a nice to have feature on any software development. For the sake of users safety and security, it is recommended that the keyboard should not require an open access permission on the phone or tablet. If you build a keyboard without open access permission, the system ensures that keystrokes cannot be sent anywhere else and users know that keystrokes go only to the app that is using the keyboard.

If the device system that you are targeting doesn't support Ethiopic, and you want to let users install Ethiopic font into the system, you need to consider communication security. The Font profile should be encrypted and signed by a valid security certificate as recommended by the phone operating system provider. All font installation communication from external server should also be through a secure SSL channel. For instance, in iOS systems, a valid profile is identified by a green verified icon as shown below.

Amharic Font for iOS

Abyssinica Amharic iOS System-wide Keyboard

Abyssinica Amharic Keyboard App

Abyssinica Amharic Keyboard is developed in accordance with Ethiopic Keyboard standard mentioned above. It is the smartest, and secure iOS System Keyboard. Download Abyssinica Amharic on iTunes App Store.