7 Tips for Mobile app Localization

According to a recent Statista report, as of January 2018. there were 3.7 billion unique mobile internet users in the world. Another Statista report lists countries with the highest web traffic for mobile devices. The top 5 such countries are Kenya, Nigeria, India, Singapore, and Ghana.

There are one or more popular local languages in each of these countries. In the case of India, there are several local languages. Taken together, these statistics show an unmistakable trend: an increasingly large number of mobile phone users have a mother tongue other than English.

Are you launching a mobile app for your business and targeting a global customer base? These statistics should be really important to you. Your app needs to cater to an increasing number of non-English-speaking people.

When you consider this forecast by eMarketer that ‘smartphone users in Asia-Pacific will increase to 1.81 billion in 2021 from 1.33 billion in 2017’, making your app usable to them becomes a huge priority.

Mobile app localization is the answer.

In this article, I will you detail 7 tips for mobile app localization to help you ensure yours is a success.

Contents

What is mobile app localization?
App internationalization vs localization
App localization strategy
Tip #1 for app localization: Focus on app store meta data
Tip #2 for app localization: Select good translation tools/services
Tip #3 for mobile app localization: Cultural sensitivity
Tip #4 for app localization: Separation of content from code
Tip #5 for app localization: Plan for the ’Right-to-Left‘ (RTL) languages
Tip #6 for mobile app localization: Follow development and content-writing best practices
Tip #7 for app localization: Use APIs

What is mobile app localization?

It might sound like a paradox, but mobile app localization is the process that helps you cater to a global audience! Often developers think of it as translating the apps‘ content into different languages, however, that‘s not correct.

Mobile app localization covers a far wider ground, and may include all the following:

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  • Translation of the content of the app to local languages.
  • Making the app sensitive to different local cultures. Several countries have conservative characteristics in their society, and these traits are historically ingrained. An American colloquial expression, while perfectly fine for many other countries, may simply draw a blank from a user coming from a conservative background.
  • Certain visuals and images may carry only a casual meaning in a country, however, are considered sensitive in another country. This is especially true for religious symbols and images. Content that carries a joke about certain animals may also be sensitive. You need to carefully consider such sensitivities while localizing your app.
  • As we know, the history of the world is littered with violent political and ideological movements. Some countries have borne the brunt of these movements more than others. Such movements often have their symbols, for e.g., flags. People in these countries strongly associate some symbols with such movements. Even certain colors may become associated with such violent movements. Your app localization effort should factor in such sensitivities.
  • App localization should cover the audio content too. Some cultures treat certain sounds and phrases entirely differently from other geographies.

Read more about app location in “8 essentials to successful mobile app localization”.

App internationalization vs localization

At times, people use the terms app internationalization and localization interchangeably. However, they don’t mean the same. Android app localization or iOS app localization refers to a single instance of making an app suited to a local market.

On the other hand, app internationalization isn‘t a single instance of modifying an app for a local market. It refers to a broad suite of processes and methodologies that you can use. These processes and methodologies involve designing and developing your app in a certain way. The objective of this kind of development is to facilitate later localization.

In other words, if you follow app internationalization methodologies up front, then you can localize your app easily later. You can do this often, and for different markets. Read more about this in “What’s the difference between localization and internationalization?”.

App localization strategy

You need to have an app localization strategy however, it can‘t be in a silo of its‘ own. Your app localization strategy must support your app marketing strategy. If you want to know more about an app marketing strategy, consult our guide “How to create an effective app marketing strategy?”.

Your first question while creating an app localization strategy is whether you need it at all? This entirely depends on the buyer persona you created for your app marketing strategy. Who will use your app determines whether you need app localization?

For e.g., if you are building an investment app for the American market, you don’t need app localization. On the other hand, if you plan to expand later to other markets like Japan or China, you need localization. In such a case, app internationalization should be part of your development strategy, so that you can easily localize later.

Tip #1 for app localization: Focus on app store meta data

In our guide “How to create an effective app marketing strategy?”, I had explained the importance of ’App Store Optimization’ (ASO). ASO significantly impacts the success of your app since it determines how likely users are to find your app in the app stores.

Just extend the same logic in case of a local market and you can see why it‘s important to focus on localization of app store meta data. By app store meta data, I mean app name, keywords, the high-level description, and screenshots.

You need to make these meta data elements understandable for the users in your target geography. Read “7 tips for app localization” to know more about it.

Tip #2 for app localization: Select good translation tools/services

We business plans often have budget constraints. We often are cash-strapped therefore, we look at free solutions. The reality is that free solutions often have limitations. Providers offering free products or services only offer limited features there. Their premium features typically command a price.

To launch a successful app in a market that‘s new for you, free solutions will most likely not work. This is true for everything include translation. Resist the temptation to just get your app content translated for free using a commonly available tool on the Internet.

There are several good translation tools/services providers. I provide the following examples however, this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Babylon 10 Translation Software and Dictionary Tool”: This is a well-known suite of translation products and services, and it typically has highly favorable reviews.
  • One Planet: The company has received good reviews. It has a presence in key matured and emerging markets, for e.g., Europe, China, etc. They also have a strong team of translators, interpreters, and editors.
  • Straker Translations: This company has a high reputation, and they cover a wide range of translation requirements. For e.g., they translate Adobe InDesign files and various other document formats. They also translate games, legal documents, etc.

 

Tip #3 for mobile app localization: Cultural sensitivity

As I have stated earlier, app localization is far more than language translation. We are steeped in our own cultures‘ iconography and symbols, whereas other cultures may have a neutral or even negative response to these. App localization requires carefully avoiding content that hurt cultural sensitivity in other geographies.

Even otherwise, when you localize your app for a different geography, you need to keep address standards, units of measure, date/time, etc. in mind. Different countries use different standards.

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You need to carefully look at your text, symbols, color palettes. This is not a job to be done in a hurry, neither is it something to be entrusted to amateurs. Consider taking help from reputed app localization providers. An example is Capita Translation and interpreting, and you can view their digital & website translation services.

Tip #4 for app localization: Separation of content from code

Are you a developer, or were you a developer once? You see, most developers tend to have a mentor early in their career, who regularly guide them through their development journey. You may have had a mentor too. One of his most oft-repeated advice was “don’t hardcode”!

Our early development mentors had given us this timeless advice citing many reasons, for e.g., easy maintainability of the code. In this context of this guide on how to localize an app, this advice is still valuable, although for a different reason.

If you hardcode text strings in the code, during every app localization effort you need to modify your code. To avoid this, keep your code and content separate. Read more about it in “App localization: 15 tips for getting started”.

I have another variant of this advice for you. Remember to keep texts separate from your graphics. If you have texts overlaid on your graphics, you need to modify your graphics every time you localize your app for a different market.

Tip #5 for app localization: Plan for the ’Right-to-Left‘ (RTL) languages

What if you plan to launch your app later in Hebrew? It‘s an RTL language, therefore, plan your content appropriately, up front. The texts, written in RTL format, look completely different than the left-to-right languages.

You need to test how your content would like when written in RTL languages. This is also important in the context of images. I recommend not overlaying texts on images, due to challenges I have explained in tip #4. However, in some instances, you may be compelled to do so. In such cases, take special care to test the overlaid texts written in RTL languages.

Tip #6 for mobile app localization: Follow development and content-writing best practices

There are several development-related and content-writing best practices for app internationalization, which helps later app localization efforts. Following are some best practices for your consideration:

  1. Focus on internationalization from the source-code level. This helps you do the groundwork first up, therefore, later app localization efforts will benefit.
  2. Check Unicode settings, which will become important you want to translate your app into Chinese or Japanese languages.
  3. Write strings as complete sentences, instead of abbreviations that many may not understand.
  4. Some languages may cause the size of the strings to increase by 20-30% post-translation. Keep this in mind for your drop-down menu, ’Call to Action’ (CTA) buttons, etc.
  5. Follow developer guidelines published by Google, Apple, and Microsoft for app localization.

Please check the following app localization guidelines from these companies:

  1. Android app location guidelines;
  2. iOS app localization guidelines, for iOS localization best practices;
  3. Microsoft app localization guidelines.

Tip #7 for app localization: Use APIs

This advice is suitable for a few aspects only, for e.g., date format, time format, currency, etc. I want to reiterate my other advice here: don‘t be tempted to use free versions of APIs. Typically, the free versions will only offer limited functionalities, which may not serve your app localization requirements.

For example, I recommend the “Fixer” currency conversion API. They have a lightweight JSON API that you can use for currency conversion. The API takes care of the foreign exchange rates. Check out their pricing here.

Examples of app localization services

I have already referred to Capita Translation and interpreting, and their digital & website translation services. However, you can also review the following additional app localization services:

Day Translations:

Day Translations is a reputed provider of translation and app localization services. Their app localization services include broadly the following:

  1. Designing for app localization;
  2. Translation by their professional translators;
  3. Compatibility testing using linguistic testing methods;
  4. Overall testing after localization.

You can view their app localization services here. You need to contact them to get their price estimate.

Lokalise:

Lokalise offers a mobile app localization service. They have iOS and Android SDKs, which allow you to automate the app localization process to a certain extent. These SDKs let you see how your translation looks like on the Android and iOS screens before you publish your app.

The company provides a dashboard where you can see the progress of the translation. They also provide effective translation tools, like ’Live Edit Module‘, ’Web in-context editor‘, ’Sketch integration‘, etc. You can upload all your files requiring translation, subsequently, you can invite your team to do the translation. Check out their features here.

On the other hand, if you don‘t have translators, you can use the professional translation services they provide. The company offers a 14-days trial period for free. You can view their detailed pricing plans here.

Applanga:

Applanga is a cloud-based platform to automate your app localization. They provide their Applanga SDK and an app localization dashboard. Visit their extensive documentation here.

You can invite your translators to work on your project using this platform, alternatively, you can engage their professional translators. Check their pricing details here.

Finding the best app localization services will depend on your exact requirements, and the above list is not exhaustive.

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