Google is making Gmail a little more user-friendly for Internet users in Myanmar, and has introduced Burmese language support to the email service.
Once a secluded nation, Myanmar is witnessing a huge rise in Internet and mobile phone usage, following democratic reforms that have opened the country to the world.
“As a country of 53 million, Myanmar’s recent opening-up has triggered an explosion of people coming online,” said Google product manager Brian Kemler in a blog post discussing the Burmese language support.
The country has 2.6 million Internet users, up from only 500,000 back in 2011, due to the availability of more mobile phones, he added.
Gmail users wanting to switch to the Burmese language interface can do so through the settings page.
But even without the language support, Google’s email service has already proven to be extremely popular in Myanmar, according to local tech entrepreneurs.
“People don’t know what is email. They know it as Gmail. That’s how popular Gmail is,” said Htoo Myint Naung, CEO of Technomation, a mobile app developer.
Many residents have some basic English language skills, so using the service isn’t too difficult, said Thaung Su Nyein, CEO of Information Matrix, an IT services and media company.
The prevalence of Gmail in Myanmar partly has to do with online censorship. Before the democratic reforms in 2011, Myanmar’s then military government had banned all free email services, including those run by Yahoo and Microsoft.
But for some reason, the government left open partial access to Gmail, Thaung said. “Everything else was thoroughly blocked. If a non-email site had ‘webmail’ or ‘free email’ mentioned on the page, it was liable to be blocked too,” he added.
The Gmail interface was also minimal and loaded fast, making it easier to access over Myanmar’s slow Internet connections.
Thaung added that the Burmese language support could help local users get the most of Gmail’s different functions. “All in all, we welcome this with open arms,” he said. He hopes that Google and other tech companies will do more to ensure that their products can fully work in the country.