Can Android Support Hebrew Characters?

Many users and developers of Hebrew smartphone applications are wondering when the Android phones will support Hebrew fonts and locales. If you try to view webpages in Hebrew or run an app with Hebrew characters, you will only see little boxes in place. Honestly, the whole situation is very confusing and I might not even have all the answers right. One question is, what does "support" really mean? Another question is, why isn't there support out of the box. The third question is, what needs to be done to get it working (for the community, not just the individual user)?

It's true that Android as an operating system is open source, so if you're tech savvy enough, you could do almost anything with the system and it would be legal. Not just that, but it does already "support" Hebrew & RTL fonts & locales -- it just doesn't have them. For some reason the persons who package the OS with the phone (companies like T-Mobile & HTC and Verizon & Motorola ) decided not to include these fonts/locales in the system package. Why? Some people think it's because of size constraints -- I heard full Unicode fonts could be 50 megabytes or more in size. Unlike the iPhone, all of the Android phones presently use internal flash memory for system storage, which is limited to 192 or 256 MB (with the G1 and the myTouch, for example). Even if you have a 4 GB SD card, the font must be stored on the small memory space.

If all the phone needs is the font package, why can't a user just click something to download and install it? It's because, for security, the fonts directory (like other system directories on a linux based platform) is read-only. And in order to make that folder writable so you can put your Hebrew font in it, you have to connect it to your computer and run some terminal commands. It's not "hacking" your device, just making a permissions change. Overall it's not very difficult but it will be annoying for non-techies. Furthermore, a future system update from your cell phone provider might overwrite the fonts directory because it doesn't know about your modification.

There is a discussion in the Android Issue Tracker requesting Hebrew characters in fonts. The only reply so far by a Googler was by jbq in Dec 2008: "A concern here is that fonts that include many scripts tend to be large, but storage space is scarce on current devices." But there are about 50 issues with more popularity (based on number of people who applied a star to it) than this one, so they definitely have their work cut out for them. And it's a tough game especially when you're not making a single cent of profit from it directly.

So when will Android have Hebrew? Choose one:
1. When Android OS packagers include full global font support on phones (won't happen until internal memory increases on future models)
2. When Android OS packagers allow the customer to choose which font languages they would like on their phone, either at purchase time or through a custom made app -- Rumor has it that new Android phones in Israel come with Hebrew fonts (why wouldn't they).
3. When the Android OS team implements an easy way for phone users to install fonts that they want, without needing to worry about running terminal commands or system update overrides.
4. When the Android OS team implements a way to store and run fonts from the SD card so the system memory won't run out.

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18 COMMENTS

posted by avi on: Feb 17, 2010 03:52am

there are other hebrew applications like siddur and chumash on anderoid when there is a will there is a way... come on rustybrick

posted by Natan on: Apr 13, 2010 11:37am

Google Israel develops Android in Hebrew see full article at http://callcenterinfo.tmcnet.com/news/2010/03/01/4649662.htm will this help those of us with US Android phones run Hebrew apps?

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Apr 13, 2010 12:43pm

It doesnt mean anything yet. We need hebrew support in american phones. Israeli phones already have hebrew support.

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Apr 14, 2010 11:07pm

I guess you can't read. We build Hebrew apps.

posted by Dylan Taylor on: Apr 14, 2010 10:55pm

Who cares if Android supports Hebrew? I think the Israel versions of the firmware do, and since you're in America, and able to write this article in English perfectly fine, I don't see the need.

posted by Samjones on: Jun 10, 2010 12:09am

At the bottom of http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=1580 It says that android 2.2 has Hebrew.... does this help?

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Jun 10, 2010 12:47am

Yes it does. We are aware...

posted by Amal on: Feb 28, 2011 05:57pm

I'm thinking to buy a cellphone with the OS android 2.2 . it's very important to me if someone send me a message in hebrew language, to read it ..!! In fact, i didn't understand u.. can i read messages in hebrew or not?? please answer me as soon as possible ..!! Thank you all

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Feb 28, 2011 06:03pm

Maybe. :) Try the device out prior to buying it. It depends on the provider, i.e. Verizon, AT&T, etc and depends on the device's OS. So ask the store you buy it from.

posted by on: Apr 13, 2010 05:16pm

If you downloaded the firmware image from those Israeli android phones and installed it on to your american android phone, then you would have the required Hebrew fonts and everything you need to view Hebrew texts and apps (and web pages). Of course this requires extra effort on your part and such a thing could be done by the phone service provider maybe if customers demanded it.

posted by Android Game on: Jun 19, 2010 02:55pm

Oh this topic... I think you can 't read. We build Hebrew applications. Nice to visit your site. Wish you post another good topic like this. I will wait to read it.

posted by Joshua Aaron Schwartz on: Sep 6, 2010 02:45pm

Indivudual apps can use their own font packs. So there is nothign stopping Rusty Brick sorting out an app that runs Hebrew off it's own app.

posted by on: Sep 6, 2010 06:22pm

I don't think you can use your own font pack in all the UI controls though (such as web view).

posted by ayid on: Sep 13, 2010 05:18am

Froyo 2.2 now supports hebrew text reading typing hebrew. Please start making Apps now! Siddur, Tanya, Rambam all of it!

posted by romsta on: Sep 7, 2011 12:49pm

When I visit Israel, I want to be able to read text messages that are sent to me in hebrew, and facebook messages that are in Hebrew. My little old Nokia candybar phone could read hebrew - you'd think that a more technologically advanced phone could do so as well.

posted by Uniqueproductsny on: Oct 26, 2011 12:42am

Hi Barry, my name is Judith I have an android and going crazy trying to install the Hebrew fonts so that I can read my family's messages in facebook from Israel. Can you help me? Thanks, Judith uniqueproductsny@aol.com

posted by Uniqueproductsny on: Oct 26, 2011 12:38am

Hi my name is Judith. I have an android and I am going crazy trying to put the Hebrew fonts so that I will able to read sidur, brachot and the facebook from my family. Is it install it and How. Can you help me? Judith uniqueproductsny@aol.com

posted by Michael Butler on: Oct 26, 2011 03:47pm

It should work on any Android phone with version 2.2 and definitely with 2.3. What do you see when you visit this page on your android phone? http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/