With the release of the first Google Android phones in Japan from NTT Docomo, there are finally phones with Google’s native Japanese keyboard input. The keyboard has been in the SDK, but it has not appeared on any handsets in the U.S. yet. I have not been able to find any information about when non-Japanese Android phones will be able to use the Japanese keyboard input.
Until there is a native Japanese keyboard input, the only usable option is the Simeji Japanese keyboard input. Simeji is a Japanese input app that lets you switch input modes on the fly between English and Japanese. It includes multiple Japanese input modes, including the standard keitai-style mode. Under the phone settings you can configure the keyboard to your preferences. I prefer the vibrate on touch option to keep the Japanese input mode feel similar to the default English keyboard on the HTC Hero.
The biggest drawback to Simeji is that it is an app. Since it is not a native part of the OS, it takes time to load every time you toggle the keyboard. There is also some lag when typing at times. It is always running in the background ready to be toggled to, but it never feels like it is a natural part of the phone’s OS.
Another drawback to using Japanese input on Android is that it does not work with text messages. You can input Japanese and sent text messages; you just can’t read any messages you receive. I don’t know if this is a problem with Sprint’s network or American text messages in general, but it is a problem. I can understand an older phone having problems receiving Japanese text messages. But from Android to Android I expect better. Between Android phones you can always use Google Talk, but there is no guarantee that the person you are messaging has notifications turned on for Talk, whereas with text messages that is almost guaranteed.
Simeji works—for the most part—and has lots of configuration options. It is great that someone has created this app because there is a need for it. But the native Android Japanese input keyboard should be made available to all Android phones. The iPhone gets this right; Google should too.