Introducing the Virtual Keyboard API

JUN 22, 2009
Inability to input text in native language has been a problem for many non-latin script based languages. This may happen for many reasons. Sometimes, users do not have the keyboard layout for their native language installed in the system they happen to be using (for example, a tourist using an internet cafe in a foreign country). Sometimes, such a keyboard layout is not well developed or not widely available. It is worse for web developers because there is no way they can ensure that their users have access to this very basic input technology.

To address this issue, today, we added Virtual Keyboard API into the Google AJAX Language API. With this API, developers can help their users to input text, regardless if they have the native keyboard layout installed in their Operating Systems or not.

Pic 1: Russian Virtual Keyboard layout

Another advantage is the ability to provide a better user experience for multilingual web sites. For example, on a Russian/Thai bilingual dictionary editing web site, users would type in Russian in the header, and then see a Thai description. With the Virtual keyboard API, developers can load a Russian virtual keyboard layout and bind with all the Russian text fields, and load a Thai virtual keyboard layout and bind them to Thai fields. The Virtual Keyboard API then will automatically swap to the corresponding keyboard layout depending upon the user action.

Sometimes users may not be familiar with the key assignment of their keyboard layout. Virtual keyboard also shows the key assignment inside the page to allow users to input text by either pressing key or by clicking mouse on the virtual onscreen layout.

With this initial release, we are launching 5 language layouts. These are: Arabic, Hindi, Polish, Russian, and Thai.

We plan to roll out support for more keyboard layouts in the future. You can find more details by reading through the class reference and trying the Code Playground samples. Feedback is always welcome in our support forum and IRC channel.

By Manish Bhargava and Frank Tang, Google Internationalization Team