Mobile App Localization: Making it Work for You
Mobile applications are hot, and not just in North America,
Western Europe, and Asia Pacific, but also in emerging markets and developing
economies. But how do you adapt your English-language app to launch in new
markets? Let’s take a look at three key steps:
- Preparation: researching international trends and how they will
affect your strategy and release schedules
- Internationalization: engineering your app for international
- Localization and translation: thinking about language and
1. Preparation – Think Ahead with Mobile Apps
Before considering the technical aspects of app
localization, you’ll need to make sure you’ve made some well-thought-out
decisions about the global app marketplace and your overall strategy. These
considerations will greatly affect your release schedule, since thorough
testing in each language market plays a big part in the release of multilingual
First, look at smart
phone usage trends around the globe. Where is the most growth? What
demographic is using smartphones and why? There is plenty of information online
about this ever-changing market. You may also want to translate your app for
the U.S. Hispanic market: according
to Nielsen, 45% of U.S. Hispanics own a smartphone.
Next, research regional
app trends. What types of apps are popular in each region or country? Will
your app sell in that market or should you consider customizing it a bit to
local trends? For example, according to Nielsen, live concert apps are most
popular in Latin America, while music discovery apps are more popular in Asia
Lastly, know your
operating systems and carriers for the desired market. Who dominates in
China — Android, Symbian or Apple iOS? What system is quickly gaining momentum
in Europe? This may play a large part in your strategy, especially if your app
is only written in one operating system that isn’t popular in your target
country. Once you determine your OS, you’ll have one last task: determining the carrier(s) for each market.
The carrier adds another layer of consideration for testing your app in market.
Let’s look at an example of why all the above is so
important to decide up front:
Perhaps you decide to take your app into Switzerland, where
the diverse population speaks three main languages: French, German, and
Italian. Three operating systems dominate that market: iOS, Blackberry, and
Android. Three major carriers sell these operations systems: Swisscom, Sunrise,
and Orange. From one country, you now have three languages, three OSs, and
three carriers, which means a total of 27 test instances. All of a sudden, one
country can turn into a very large localization project!
2. Mobile App Internationalization
In general, mobile apps require the same
internationalization process as any traditional software program. Here are some
- Separate content from the code and put it in a resource file.
If this isn’t done, retrieving the content for translation becomes a
complicated process. It can also save a lot of time, money, and effort,
since you can apply updates to one shared code file.
- Make the architecture locale-independent. An internationalized
program app can display information differently throughout the world. It
does so by referencing an API that controls internationalization issues
for a particular locale. A locale identifies the exact language and
cultural settings for a user. The API controls how to format the following
locale specific areas:
- Currency amounts
- Ensure that non-Roman characters are rendered correctly in the UI.
East-Asian (e.g.,. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc.) and European
extended characters (e.g., accents, umlauts, cedillas, etc.) will become
corrupted unless you use simple interface fonts that support multiple
- Allow for expansion and contraction of text. When translating
from English into German, for example, the length of your words and
phrases will increase, making your text extend past the container. You’ll
want to allow for 20-50% text expansion depending on the language.
Conversely, when translating into Chinese, Arabic and some other
languages, your content will contract and its font size will need to be
increased. Contraction leads sometimes to unwanted “white” empty space.
Think about the aesthetic design of your app, taking expansion and
contraction into consideration.
- Collation and sorting. Is there alphabetical sorting of
content in your apps? If so, note
that not every language follows the English order of sorting an alphabet
from A-Z. Czech, for example, sorts the digraph “ch” between “h” and “i”,
and in some other European languages, accented letters have special
sorting rules. Languages such as Greek or Russian don’t even use the Latin
alphabet. And some East Asian character languages, like Chinese, don’t
have an alphabet at all.
To help you with internationalization solutions, rely on
existing mobile app system APIs for international support. Make sure to conduct
global readiness testing before
moving on to localization. Test for locale and language neutral support as well
as for locale and region-specific features.
3. Mobile App Localization
There are three main steps towards localizing your mobile
- In-context verification
Prepare for Localization
Work with your localization agency to create a language
glossary and style guide (this includes your intended tone, brand
guidelines, etc.), and establish translation
memory. Due to space constraints, mobile apps tend to use images, shapes,
icons and symbols more than traditional software. Conduct a content review to
make sure that these are truly international. Don’t assume an “i” icon means
“information” in all cultures and languages. Also, think about cultural or
sports references. If you use an American football to express a national
pastime, you’ll use a soccer ball in Europe. Think twice about symbols or
colors that may have national, cultural, political, or religious
Ready to Translate!
Who will translate your app? There may not be many words in
your app, but you still want to be sure that it’s translated correctly for the
target markets. Do you use a freelancer, internal native speaker or hire a
professional agency like Acclaro?
Assuming you use a professional agency, your translators will be
native-speaking linguists, living in your target language countries. The
translations are then given to native-speaking editors, who are also
in-country. Finally, the edited translations are given to you, the client, for
final review. Your reviewers should be native speakers of the target language
and very familiar with your product and brand. Once the translation is
approved, it’s fed back into your language resources (glossary, style guide,
translation memory) so that your next update or new app project has up-to-date,
approved information, reducing costs and ensuring consistency in the long run.
You’ll now test your application on the actual device,
ideally in the target country on the designated network/carrier. First, you’ll
conduct localization testing for cosmetic UI checks and locale-specific
functional checks. Resolve localization bugs before your start your linguistic
testing, which looks at in-context language verification within runtime UI.
This is where the Switzerland example mentioned at the beginning of this
article becomes especially complex — one country can have dozens of test instances.
For many organizations, conducting that many tests is not feasible. Here are
our suggestions for testing scenarios, with the ideal scenario first:
- Ideal: Test on target device and carrier in
- Option 2: Test on target device out of country
- Option 3: Test on emulator
Remember that launching your app in another language market
means more than just localizing the app itself. You’ll also need to localize
your app description and provide final, localized screen grabs for the app stores,
and localize your marketing or public relations materials as well.
The global app market is growing every day. Contact Acclaro to help you take
your mobile app
to new language markets.