Oliver Bock
Oliver Bock 1 December 2016
Categories Mobile, Technology

Why Mobile App Localization Is Needed (And How To Do It)

Mobile app localization is essential if you want to conquer foreign markets. This is true for both iOS and Android operating systems. Read more why and how to do it.

Why Mobile App Localization? I love this expression I found online the other day – “the world is getting smaller and smaller every day.” It made me stop and think for moment, before searching for scientific evidence to support the fact that our world may be physically contracting.

If that statement alarmed you as much as me, then don’t worry; it isn’t. What the author was trying to convey is the fact that major advances in communications are bringing people closer. The internet is changing the way we think, work and relate to each other; and it turns out that people are more similar than we thought.

Manufacturing giants like Ford, Pepsi and Walmart have been running a global racket for years. Tailoring their recipe or product to meet the different needs and requirements of local markets. But even if our consumption habits are beginning to merge, nothing has brought people so close together as the internet.

The Global Marketplace

The world is a more transparent place to live in. We can see what’s going on in other countries in real-time. We no longer have to wait for the news to project a distorted version of reality. When there’s a live local on the ground with a cell phone camera and an internet connection. Social media sites have shone a light on previously dark corners of the world, highlighting consumer preferences, activity and behavior.

What that means for you and your mobile app is that there’s a greater market than ever before. Consumers are literally eating up mobile apps of all kinds. From organizing their finances to their social lives, there’s now an app for just about everything you can think of. So, if you’ve got a successful app on your hands in your home country, the chances are with the right mobile app localization, it will be just as popular around the world.

Just look at the desperation for Nintendo’s Pokémon Go game app. Upon its launch in July of this year, the app was downloaded more than 7 million times in a week in the US alone, for Android and iOS. Of course, Nintendo has a few things going for them that your company may not have yet, such as a recognized international brand name and a previously popular product. But they still had to learn a thing or two when it came to mobile app localization. Namely, how you roll it out.

Pokémon Go was first launched in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, with a plan to roll out to other countries afterwards. A clever way to build up hype and suspense in countries where the app wasn’t available. A pretty neat idea if it wasn’t for the fact that by not offering their app in certain geographic regions, they spurned a bunch of copycat products and illegal downloading.

Important markets, such as the UK, began to download “Go Catch ‘Em All,” on iOS. In the Philippines, opportunistic hackers were able to bypass regional locks and download the game straight to their phones. Nintendo also intensely irritated the Japanese people, who were enraged at waiting for an app initially in their own language to launch in other countries first.

What’s clear when it comes to mobile app localization then, is that there are many factors to consider. From language translation and image localization, to user experience, internationalization, and your roll-out strategy; you’ll need to pay a lot of attention at every stage.

Just in case you haven’t caught on to why you need to localize your mobile app, let me spell it out for you. Localizing your app for Android and iOS worldwide will give you:

  • Access To A Global Market

    Think most of the world’s app users are based in the States? Think again. More than half of the world’s mobile subscribers are located in Asia/Pacific. If you launch your app in one language only, your visibility will be greatly reduced in foreign markets.

  • Unlimited Sales

    The number of mobile phone subscribers globally is set to reach 4.77 billion by 2017. That’s a pretty big potential market for your app.

  • A Worldwide Hit

    90% of activity on mobile devices occurs in apps these days, (rather than browsers.) But the majority of apps are downloaded and deleted in minutes. Optimum localization of your app has never been so important.

  • Increased ROI

    According to a recent study by Distomo, companies who localized their apps for iOS saw significantly more downloads – 128% more in fact.

I could go on, but you pretty much get the point. Mobile app localization is essential if you want to conquer foreign markets. This is true for both iOS and Android operating systems.

What’s The Catch?

There’s always a catch, right? If you want to join the international party, you’ll need to do more than make your app available in multiple regions. This is where the fun part starts. You’ll need to get your texts translated and localized, the design optimized and research the expressions, nuances and habits of different audiences.

Mobile app localization is not as simple as translating your app into Spanish or French for the Spanish or French speaking markets – which span multiple countries across different hemispheres with contrasting climates, cultures and beliefs. Localizing your mobile app goes way deeper than that.

A great app is all about user experience and the value it brings to your customers. You want your game, shopping, or pregnancy app to provide valuable information. You want to deliver a user experience that will make customers recommend your app to their friends. You need to recreate the experience that you deliver your customers at home and what made your app so popular in the first place.

How To Localize Your Mobile App

If you’ve decided that it’s time to get your app into the global market, then it goes without saying that you’ll want to reach the largest audience possible. Which means that you’ll need to localize with Android and iOS platforms in mind. While the process isn’t wildly different, some of the rules and problems you’ll run into are, but here’s a basic step-by-step guide for how to localize your app:

1. Gather Your Resources

The assets, or resources, of your app are all the elements that aren’t related to coding. So, this includes your content, images, tutorials, or any other data file that accompanies your program’s executable code. For optimum mobile app localization, you’ll need to externalize your resources so that the translation and localization process can begin, creating new language versions of each file.

2. Think About The Layout

Just as when designing your website for a global audience, the issue of space when it comes to your app design is equally important. So, when designing an app with localization in mind, make sure you think about length of words and the fact that different languages take up different amounts of space. Keep your design flexible to accommodate these language discrepancies. Ensure that your app allows for the expansion and contraction of texts.

French, Spanish and German, for example can take up to 30% more space than English, and some languages, as you know, are written vertically or right to left. If you know you’ll be localizing in Arabic or Farsi, you could think about implementing support for RTL layouts. Check out these resources for RTL support for Android and for iOS.

If you design with these considerations in mind, you should be able to use a single set of layouts for all the languages you support. But you may have to create some alternative layouts for any languages that don’t fit.

Luckily, when it comes to mobile app localization, the Android and iOS operating systems already provide a format for converting times, dates, times and currencies and other entitles that vary by locale. So, use the system made available to you, rather than your own, as this will eradicate compatibility issues.

3. Translators Need Context

As any good product manager knows, translators need context to correctly convey meaning from one language to another. So, when you send your resources out for the texts to be translated into regional languages, make sure you provide them with context.

If your translators know where the words they are translating are meant to go, then they’ll work more accurately and be more productive. Giving translators context will greatly speed up app translation, where the size of the screen and layout can vary from one device to another.

PhraseApp’s translation management software is an excellent way to provide your translators with context, as it allows you to add notes and attach files and screenshots for translators to see.

4. App Localization Testing

Once your strings are translated and your resources returned, it’s time to move everything back into your app for testing. You’ll need to implement rigorous localization and linguistic testing to make sure there are no issues in your content or layout.

The best way of testing is to establish a testing environment that includes multiple virtual devices and different screen sizes. These will vary depending on the markets you decide to target, and you’ll need to gather this information from the research you carry out beforehand.

Prepare yourself for certain common issues, such as line wrapping, breaks in sentences and strings, and incorrect layout. You may also find some texts that haven’t been translated. If you can’t solve an issue where the language goes outside of the boundaries of your design, you might have to create a custom layout for it. Be sure to test rigorously, as it’s better that you find the mistakes than your customers.

5. App Store Optimization (ASO)

Just like its sister, search engine optimization, app store optimization (ASO) is about optimizing your content to get greater visibility in the app store. You’ll need to study your local audiences in detail and make sure that you’re using the right search terms and optimized content for their region.

Correct translation of your app’s name, description and keywords will help local users find it more easily. Also, think about things like your icon and how it will look on iOS and Android. The edges are rounded on iOS and on Android they are square, for example.

Following these steps when localizing your mobile app is a great way to start, but using a translation management software that helps you keep all your projects and phases in one place, allows your contributors to collaborate and gives your translators context will smooth the localization process. Making it faster and easier for all parties involved, and ensuring you get a slice of the international market sooner.

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