World's first integrated Māori keyboard launched by Lenovo

The world's first integrated Māori keyboard could soon be hitting our shelves.

Lenovo's latest product includes physical keys for macrons or tohutō, the little line used above some vowels in te reo Māori.

It was launched at Auckland's Ngā Whare Waatea Marae today.

The idea came about following a conversation the company's General Country Manager Libby Macgregor had with her son.

"My little boy came home from school one day, his name is Felix, and he asked me why there were no te reo Māori keys on the keyboard of the Lenova Think Pad I was using," she said.

"It inspired me to think well, absolutely, why not?"

Macrons are crucial markers in te reo Māori that help decipher a word's pronunciation and meaning.

Lenovo's integrated Māori keyboard.

They indicate where the stressed vowel sound features in a word, and are used to pluralise words.

For example, the word 'wahine' means 'woman', but the word 'wāhine" means women.

Macrons can also change the meaning of a word entirely.

For example, the word 'keke' means 'cake'. But the word 'kēkē' means armpit.

The innovation is being hailed a 'game-changer' by Māori leaders in the tech industry.

Barry Soutar is the director of TORO Studios, a company that designed the automated judging system for the national kapa haka competition Te Matatini.

He said once the system was built, many of the judges couldn't work out how to include macrons in their comments.

"I couldn't believe how challenging it still remains for people to have to use a combination of keys to be able to get macrons," he said.

"So, a physical keyboard that actually has the macrons visible is game-changing."

Otene Hopa, the National Cultural Lead for PwC New Zealand, said the time-consuming and confusing process to set-up macrons was just another barrier for te reo Māori use.

"At Waikato University, there was a whole group of us saying, 'how do we get that?'

"You had to do almost seven clicks to actually change the language [on the computer] and then you had to go through a whole process."

Kevin Shedlock is an assistant lecturer at the University of Victoria's School of Engineering and Computer Science.

He said the keyboard was a step in the right direction for inclusive technology.

"It's a positive way forward and it's a progression to the next level of where te reo could be," he said.

"Inclusive technology is really about eliminating the barriers that exist so that whānau can have a better experience, a more user-friendly experience, with technology.

"The way we can build new technologies to help hearing impaired whānau, for example, to help them be self-dependent. So in this way technology can become an enabler for whānau."

The keyboard will be rolled out at schools, kura and corporate entities first, and will be made available to consumers further down the track.

"I think its more about effectively providing an opportunity for the visibility of te reo Māori, making it visible so people remember that macrons are used in language," said Macgregor.

"It's about asking ourselves, how can we incorporate diversity and inclusion in our devices we're making? And the Māori keyboard is a great example of a big company doing something about it."


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