Plans For PlecoDict For BlackBerry?

My current portable is a BlackBerry 7130c (64 MB of memory) and was wondering if plans for a BlackBerry version (likely sans handwriting recognition) was in the works. The OS has been rock-solid through three straight weeks if tuning and tweaking, good stuff...Just wish I had PlecoDict running on it...


Staff member
No current plans for a Blackberry port, without a handwriting recognizer we don't feel sales would be sufficient to cover our porting costs. And those costs would be particularly high on Blackberry because (like Symbian) it has a rather unusual programming model that would necessitate rewriting a lot of our code from scratch.
China Mobile and Chunghwa Telecom have announced support for RIM BlackBerry and a recent article on Chinese television showcased the growing addiction to them. Hoping you guys reconsider your position as BlackBerry OS is just waiting for PlecoDict to be ported over to it 8) ...


Staff member
It's not a question of whether or not the platform has lots of users, it's a question of whether or not they'd be interested in our software without the handwriting recognizer and with a completely different interface in general. It might have the same dictionaries, but it wouldn't be nearly as streamlined or useful as the Palm / Pocket PC versions.

I'll also repeat the same argument I've been using with Symbian fans lately: the Palm OS version of our software is still outselling the Pocket PC version by more than 2 to 1, so I'm not in the least bit convinced that supporting additional platforms will grow our sales in any significant way. If we did release a Blackberry version, my guess is that at least half of its sales would be to people who would have bought a Palm or Pocket PC device had we not supported Blackberry.

I know handhelds/smartphones are an extremely personal type of technology, and that people tend to get very passionate about their particular platform, but it's just not feasible for us to support every major handheld OS. Our software is a lot more complicated than most handheld programs, and since we rely so heavily on licensed code / content, every time we want to add a new platform we have to renegotiate something like half a dozen different license agreements, fork out hefty new royalty advances, and spend something like a year doing the actual port, all for the sake of a highly questionable sales boost.

I'm also aware that our lack of wider platform support might make it easier for a competitor to gain a foothold against us, but if our software consistently beats theirs on features/design I think we'll still come out way ahead, and it'll be harder for them to keep up with us if they've got twice as many platforms to support with every new update. (look at how long updates are taking us just on two platforms :) )


Staff member
We think the main reason for the Palm version's continued success is that a large percentage of our customers still buy a handheld primarily to run our software. We recommend Palm to those people on our website, and even if we didn't, since entry-level Palms are still quite a bit cheaper than entry-level Pocket PCs, if they're not interested in using their handheld for anything else Palm is the logical choice. In the US this even applies to smartphones; lots of cell carriers are giving away free Treos now, but it's much harder to find a free HTC Wizard.

The fact that the Pocket PC version is harder to install may contribute to this a little as well, but the same ratio applies to demo downloads so I'm not inclined to think it's a big factor.
Haha. So it's in part self-induced.

You're right. There are a lot of people who've never used a PDA before buying one just for PlecoDict. A Japanese learner of Chinese I met was using a Canon Chinese-Japanese dictionary. She was amazed when I showed her PlecoDict. She's also never used a PDA. Unfortunately, her Chinese is better than her English, and she wouldn't be able to use PlecoDict directly. I would think that there might be some public domain Chinese-Japanese (as well as Chinese-Korean) dictionaries that can be made to work with PlecoDict, like Adso.


Staff member
Well yes, I suppose it is somewhat self-induced. Nonetheless, all of these people would be buying our software regardless of whether or not we had a Pocket PC version, so the argument still holds.

There do seem to be a few free Chinese-Japanese/Chinese-Korean dictionaries out there, the problem is that we don't really have anyone here who knows Japanese or Korean - even if we had someone to do the editorial work for us, we'd still need to localize the software/documentation in Japanese or Korean and someone to offer tech support in those languages.
There do seem to be a few free Chinese-Japanese/Chinese-Korean dictionaries out there, the problem is that we don't really have anyone here who knows Japanese or Korean - even if we had someone to do the editorial work for us, we'd still need to localize the software/documentation in Japanese or Korean and someone to offer tech support in those languages.
I was thinking of something along the line of an user-supported dictionary. There is probably a base of non-native English speaking users who know enough English to use the software but aren't fluent enough to be entirely comfortable with using a Chinese-English dictionary. If it's clearly spelled out what format PlecoDict needs, users themselves could plug in dictionaries in other languages, e.g. French, German, not just Japanese and Korean. PlecoDict has a great interface and could be a platform for a multilingual Chinese dictionary.

Specifically in terms of Korean and Japanese, I can see some font issues. Would it the Korean and Japanese display correctly within PlecoDict as long as one had CJKOS in the correct mode?


Staff member
Well I suppose that's true. In fact there's even a pretty easy mechanism in Palm OS for creating (third-party) language localization files.

We use our own font rendering system that's not modified by or accessible to CJKOS, so I'm afraid Japanese and Korean wouldn't display correctly even if one had set CJKOS to draw them. Adding Japanese support to our fonts would be easy, in fact we're considering doing it anyway since all we'd need to add are a hundred or so kana and related characters. (all of the common kanji are already included) Korean would be trickier, though - supporting that would entail adding more than 10,000 new characters, which for space-saving reasons we'd have to put in a separate font file.
I have used a Treo 650 for a long time, but finally got a BlackBerry because the Palm is so unstable. PlecoDict is the ONLY thing I miss about the BlackBerry. I still carry my 650 around when I'm in China just for it's usefulness.

Ah, if only...
longjie said:
PlecoDict is the ONLY thing I miss about the BlackBerry.
Same here. A translation only dictionary sans handwriting recognition would certainly fill the void of an adequate English-Chinese-English dictionary for the BlackBerry platform. Simplified and Traditional keyboard input methods are both supported by OS software upgrades (Hong Kong CSL, Singapore Telecom). And recent China Mobile and Chunghwa Telecom agreements with RIM serve to indicate a growing market potential for PlecoDict.


Staff member
Well I suppose a Pinyin-oriented dictionary would be better than nothing, particularly if we combined it with a more poweful radical input system (one that allowed you to search based on secondary radicals/components), but I still have to wonder whether or not it would attract enough interest to justify the fairly-hefty development cost. Particularly given that most of the installed base of Blackberries lack the internal memory or the memory expansion slot that one would need in order to install our software on them.
Blackberry thoughts...

Just a perspective on the Blackberry thread:

-- I have a Palm that I use only as a Pleco dictionary. I love this dictionary and it is always in my briefcase. My Chinese associates are amazed at how fast I can find something and how accurate the results are. Mike's assertion that Blackberry users will shell out money to buy a dedicated device to get the quality of Pleco is correct in my case.

-- My daily carrying PDA is a Blackberry Curve 8300 (recently upgraded from older blackberry). It's a new design...very fast, 64MB RAM, MicroSD card slot. It is always on my person, which means I have access to it more than my Palm-based dictionary.

If there were a competitor that ran on Blackberry that was equal quality to Pleco, I'd definitely switch. I'd miss handwriting recognition, but for every 100 times I use the dictionary, I use recognition 2 times. The convenience of having the dictionary all the time without the need for 2 devices on my body would justify the software purchase.

On the other hand, if there were a Pleco Blackberry version available, I'd buy it immediately, even though I already have the Palm version!

So there is my consumer preference...kind of like a focus group of one for whatever it's worth.

Actually I think you guys have made a good decision not to bite off a third major platform so far. The Palm & PPC were the right ones to tackle. Blackberry is not a general purpose OS--it's only smartphones and primarily corporate users. Making niche software to serve a niche within a niche is a risky proposition.

However, if you ever decide to do it, I will be delighted to be the first paying customer for a Blackberry version of PlecoDict


Staff member
Thanks for your thoughts on that. The biggest issue with a BlackBerry port continues to be the fact that BlackBerry programs can only be written in Java; this would require far more extensive rewrites than a normal port, since we'd be changing programming languages as well. So actually the most likely way we end up with a BlackBerry version of PlecoDict is to develop an online version (something we already want to do for lots of other reasons) and then write a very small / light "PlecoDict Viewer" program for BlackBerry, which offloads (almost) all of the data processing to Pleco's servers but gives you a nicer user interface than you'd get with a web-based version.

I continue to be surprised by how many people consider the handwriting recognizer to be a minor feature, though - are you an advanced enough speaker that you can pretty much guess at the pronunciation of any character you don't know, or do you just find yourself dealing with spoken Chinese more often than written?
Ussage profile/value prop

Yes, I understand about the java thing. It's nice to have a model to follow, but it'd largely be a code rewrite. Yuk.

I wouldn't be interested in a client that uses a backend server. When I'm in China I don't have internet on my blackberry. In Canada and Europe I have roamed on data but it's expensive and I avoid doing it. Even in the US I wonder about the latency of waiting for the network--seconds matter in a verbal conversation. Maybe for others the client/server model would be suitable, but I still need a disconnected solution.

I wouldn't say recognition is a minor feature--it's amazing! I do use it and love it. However, since there is radical lookup, recognition is a bit of a luxury feature...although for beginners who don't know radicals, recognition might be the only way to quickly find characters, and may even be the prime motivation in their purchase. In any case, for characters that have perhaps 10 strokes or less, recognition is definitely faster and simpler than radical lookup and I love it. It's just that it's a low % use case for me and in the world of trade-offs it's a feature I could live without (if radical lookup was still available).

As far as why that % is so low for me...most of the time when I deal with characters I don't recognize, I'm at my computer reading some long electronic document, and I can lookup unknown characters more efficiently using desktop tools than with a handheld dictionary. I don't regularly read paper documents in chinese characters, but if I did I would need the handheld much more for character recognition.

The big value of Pleco for me is the lightning fast lookup and accurate results when I'm "out and about"...usually this means during spoken communication...retrieving a word I've forgotten or finding the meaning of an unfamiliar word or some colorful chinese idom I just heard. I'm sure other users have different profiles, but hopefully this helps understand the value prop for me.


Staff member
I can certainly see how a server-based version would be a little problematic now, but that's really the way the industry is going - networks are getting better, unlimited data is becoming a staple of mobile plans (with the iPhone in fact I think it's a subscription requirement), and hardware-wise, processor speed has been largely stagnant the last couple of years while manufacturers have been focusing on things like form factor, screen size, and battery life, along with of course the new 3G chipsets. The vast majority of BlackBerry owners use their BlackBerry primarily for e-mail, so you're unfortunately in the minority in terms of wanting to use our software on your BlackBerry without having internet access.

But certainly my views on this could change, if we release a (very-easy-to-port) touchscreen-less Windows Mobile version and it turns out to be hugely popular that would definitely be an argument for considering a native BlackBerry port.

Thanks for the additional comments on handwriting recognition - we've been looking at some sort of multiple-radical lookup (where as long as you recognize *some* component in a character it doesn't actually have to be the main one, and you can key in more than one to reduce the number of choices for oft-used radicals like water/speech/etc) as a way to improve the radical system's accessibility to beginners. Handwriting recognition is definitely key if you're reading paper documents, so I imagine its heaviest users are people dealing with printed translations, textbooks and the like, but as a demo / "hey, look at that!" feature it's still beyond almost anything else we offer. (even more so with our new handwriting-input flashcard mode that I'll hopefully be posting screenshots of next week)

In the US fast mobile data is pretty ubiquitous in most markets, and I'll be interested to see how your offerings work in that area. For the windows mobile handset edition it would be a great (and perhaps only feasible) alternative.

A decent book I have on shape/secondary radical lookup is "Chinese Character Fast Finder" (ISBN 0804836345), which includes 3200 characters and can be used by absolute beginners who haven't yet learned radicals. This reference uses a systematic approach that would lend itself quite well to computerization. If you haven't seen it it's worth a look.

I think a PlecoDict version that relies on an online connection is still far away from being really interesting. Maybe in the US there is internet everywhere (even I really doubt that) but in many other places there is not. Around here (Germany) you will hardly even find commercial wireless lan. The times of open private networks everywhere is also over.

The major problem that I see is that even if wlan becomes more famous around the world you will probably still only have a flatrate for a certain region/country. PlecoDict is a product which is probably used a lot by people who are traveling in different (maybe many different) countries. I believe that it will take a long time until internet on the move in other countries will become a reality.

But after all I can understand the point not wanting to rewrite plecodict completely. Finally there are not so many Blueberry-users at all and I believe it is far from becoming a trend. People want a touch-screen, even some phones got that now (Sony-Ericsson) And especially for Plecodict - I would really recommend that.
I myself bought my PDA basically for PlecoDict (alternative would have been some BestaProduct) - so if someone has a Blueberry ... an additional PDA is not that expensive any more. I guess right now the estimated price of additional PDAs is not as high as the estimated development costs ... Translation into another programming language is not "just" a rewrite ... Finally I am afraid that I will have to pay it with my next licence ...