Bangkok Diary Saturday 20 October 2007: Thai Language on an iPhone
By Graham K. Rogers
Although the iPhone is not due to arrive in Asia until some time in 2008, the enthusiasm for the device means that a number of people in Thailand (and I guess other countries -- India has been mentioned in despatches) are unwilling to wait and have acquired their own already.
To use them here requires them to be unlocked, which immedately voids the warranty, but those I know of here are quite willing to have that situation, and are all fully aware that any updates may render the iPhone unusable. Despite that, there are plenty available at the Mahboonkrong Centre's floor 4 and I suspect elsewhere in Bangkok too. Those in the Mahboonkrong are priced in the region of 24,000 baht, I am told, which is some $700 or more: that is an indication of how badly some people must want these.
I am willing to wait as (while not afraid of some experimentation on the Macs I run) the idea of forking out about half my month's salary on something which might not work next week, is anathema to me. I would rather eat rice.
I might be happy to buy the iPod touch (indeed, very happy).
Yesterday I bumped into a former student who had one. Someone had sent it in partial settlement as dollars are not much good here these days with the hoops one has to jump through to get them changed; and you don't want to send cash through the mail.
He had waved it at me last week as we passed, but I had mistakenly thought it was a touch. It dawned on me a few hours later that he is not an iPod person and his HP phone was one of his important accesories. I checked again and it is the iPhone.
During the week, he has been hard at work finding out about how he might use it here in the absence of any support. Official support that is. Anyone who has been in Thailand for a while knows that there is always a way. It is like Christopher Isherwood's 30s Berlin: you can get anything for a price. Although with software this will also sometimes mean for free, with the number of enthusiastic users around.
He explained the way that he had got it working (and noted that there are other methods) as well as how he had added Thai language capability to it, a facility that is sadly missing on iPods (there was an early, unoffical hack which worked well) and on OS X localisation. On OS X it is possible to write in Thai, and to read Thai text if the extra fonts are installed, but the Finder and Application menus remain stubbornly English. This localisation is overdue.
His first problem occured with his computer. He is running a Vaio with Vista and is pulling his hair out with the way it works. Or doesn't. Indeed, he has to carry around two notebooks as some of the essential software doesn't run on his Business version (not the cheapo one, please note) of this super new operating system.
One of the problems is with iTunes, which (despite early problems that were supposed to be fixed) is not very Vista-friendly. Or maybe Vista is not iTunes friendly: is the glass half full or half empty?.
As a note, these and other links are for information purposes only. My own gut reaction is to leave well alone: anything here is at your own risk.
A further site he was using is the local PDA4Thai, but that is all in Thai. What was needed next, he told me was any.sim and a search on Google will reveal all manner of sites that show this. You are on your own here.
Once this was all unlocked, he needed to concentrate on the keyboard and this is not a simple download. A Russian (the Russians have also had probems with localisation although this is now on the iPod itself and OS X Leopard will have Russian localisation. Like Thai, the Cyrillic alphabet needs special treatment, and by creating the software for the iPhone to allow a keyboard for Russian use, the doors have been opened for other scripts. The page that opens is in Russian, but halfway down, this unsigned hero (I cannot read Russian) provides an English explanation, with a PayPal donation icon: use it.
One has to ask, if Thai kids can produce language packets for their iPods and a Russian privateer can create a keyboard for non-standard languages, why won't Apple?
The Cyrillic keyboard software is currently at version 1.0a4 and this will expire sometime in mid November. Each version, I am told, has a 30-day expiry so that any changes Apple makes can be compensated for quickly.
When this is installed, a user must turn of Auto-correction in the Settings, otherwise the keyboard will crash and a user is sent back to the iPhone's Home page (auto-correction does not recognise these non-standard characters). That is followed by mobile enhancer: software that is available on the same site which states, If you use PXL, and this is installing for the first time, you will also need to install Mobile Enhancer 1.0a3 PXL" (pxl is apparently the file extension for programs that use the iPhone).
The last stage involves the installation of the Thai keyboard itself and software for this is available from the Thai Phone Community where they also have available that Mobile Enhancer and the keyboard software in zip and pxl formats.
What I find interesting is that not only is there much enthusiasm for this device here (that in itself is expected and I cannot wait to buy my own; but when it comes), but the rapid growth of a community willing and able to provide such assistance.
For further information, e-mail to
To eXtensions: 2004-05
To eXtensions: Year Two
To eXtensions: Year One
To eXtensions: Book Reviews
Back to homepage