The app that made Urdu-thing possible. This app was launched in 2011.
The guy on the left is my God Father, and he was excited that we just launched the children apps somewhere around 2010, now he was in need to write Urdu on his iPhone! After introducing Urdu related children app (flashcards), I noticed that it was difficult to write the Urdu language on iPhones.
I observed my God Father, my wife, and my friends, they were using Arabic Keyboard but it has fewer alphabets as compare to the Urdu language. And the keyboard was not designed as per the Urdu speakers’ mental model.
At that time in the mobile world since Nokia and Blackberry reign, the Urdu language usually appears as in the “Naskh” typeface, however, the true typeface for the Urdu language is “Nastaleeq”.
How to make the Urdu language appear everywhere on your smartphone into that Nastaleeq typeface? Adopting that specific typeface from the system level was the best bet to get it done. Urdu language Unicode is the subset of Arabic Unicode.
This dependency created the usability issue for such a long time specifically on smartphones and smart devices. Urdu language typeface before 2017 on iOS was Naskh which was basically the Arabic typeface. Whereas Urdu's true face is the Nastaleeq typeface.
We then start building the app, and I designed the Urdu keyboard by observing the phonetic alphabet placement on the QWERTY keyboard. I also took desktop Urdu publishing software into consideration.
I collected Desktop Urdu Publishing Softwares, and Urdu Keyboard supports on desktop OS (Windows, OS X, and Linux).
I created the information architecture of the app process, which was simple enough. Then crafted the wireframe in Balsamiq. While discussing details with the developers about Unicode and Objective C++ adoption. We were able to map all the alphabets to the keyboard design, kept the developers in-loop in my design process to make sure if I am not going out of Objective C++ boundary with the design decision of the keyboard.
Did it work well? Yes!
I tested the Arabic Keyboard on iOS and our Urdu Writer Keyboard speed test with Persian and Urdu speakers. The final result was Urdu Writer Keyboard was 2.5 times faster than the Arabic Keyboard usage for writing Urdu/Persian language.
By 2013 we achieved 150,000 total downloads within two years, and 4 million sessions served so far. We got 600+ reviews, and 90% of them are 5-star ratings in the App Store, plus we are serving 20,000 sessions per week!
Urdu language Unicode is the subset of Arabic Unicode. This dependency created the usability issue for such a long time specifically on smartphones and smart devices. Urdu language typeface before 2017 on iOS was Naskh which was basically the Arabic typeface. Whereas Urdu's true face is the Nastaleeq typeface.
AS mentioned earlier, after playing with iOS 7 custom font, I wrote a letter to Tim Cook of Apple Inc. in October 2014. Because in September 2014, Apple introduced the system-level Urdu keyboard which resembled the same phonetic pattern of alphabets on the keyboard. I proposed the solution that simply mapping Urdu alphabets to Nastaleeq typeface on an operating system level will solve the problem of Urdu readability for worldwide Urdu speakers if they adopt the Apple devices. There are 532 million Urdu speakers around the world.
Once I wrote the letter, and run the social media campaign under the hashtag #NastaleeqItApple, got a call from Tim Cook’s office and a confirmation via the email.
This is was the turning point for my effort of bringing the Urdu language on iOS devices.
I kept sharing the historical facts and also all the details regarding the Nastaleeq adoption throughout the history of Urdu literature. And also compared the available typeface details with Apple Inc.
I kept writing the letter to Tim Cook every year on the death anniversary of Steve Jobs, and keep reminding him that “We the Urdu speakers are also looking for our brush on the canvas, created by the Steve Jobs” subtly referring to his famous letter to the employees in October 2014.
And this is how I made the Urdu language possible on all Apple Devices!
Because this didn’t appear only on iOS, but the adoption of Nastaleeq also trickled down to watchOS and macOS.
We are now in the process of identifying the two core micro-flows, to start our version 2 design.