How to Best Localize Your Mobile App

Posted by Sophia Barnhart

In the ever-changing world of mobile technology, bringing your product to the market swiftly and effectively is essential. That’s why companies worldwide are looking to succeed in this dynamic environment by developing mobile applications that not only cater to their domestic market but expand across borders to global audiences. As the mobile user base continues to grow, it’s important to act quickly and understand how to properly approach such a vast population. By localizing your mobile app, you can not only appeal to a wider target market, you can enhance the user experience and differentiate your brand from your competitors. Be cautious when globalizing your app when implementing a localization strategy to make sure no user is left behind.

Why Localizing Your App is Important

By generalizing your audience, you automatically assume that your target market shares the same language, culture, and preferences—which isn’t the case in reality.  As of 2014, there were nearly 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, which is equivalent to 95.5% of the world population (a.k.a. not a market your app wants to miss out on!). This immense market growth is a result of downloads and revenue from Europe and East Asia—countries that do not primarily speak English. Adapting to cultural discrepancies and linguistic differences yields more downloads, profits, and customer satisfaction. In order to successfully move beyond your domestic borders, your company needs to internationalize and localize your app.

Process of App Localization

Here are some of the best practices to implement when localizing your app:

  • Start in development
  • Plan for text expansion
  • Follow platform guidelines
  • Separate out your translatable content
  • Provide context for your strings
  • Internationalize your code
  • Make sure there is a translation memory
  • Choose your technology
  • Work with a language partner
  • Pseudo-location test

Before developing your app, you should keep in mind the potential of expanding to a global audience; create content for your app that will be easy to translate and interpret into multiple languages. You should internationalize your code first—meaning that you must ensure that the app’s software will support foreign character sets, text orientation, time zone, and currency formats.

As you begin the process, you must create a localization file to be exported to your translation partner, containing all the text “strings” (characters that will be used in your app). In addition, you will need to prepare supporting materials; for examples, screenshots can provide helpful information to the translation company. Spreadsheets help organize strings when translating into multiple languages; including comment sections also allows translators to elaborate on context provided, ensuring that nothing will be misinterpreted. In general, try to keep your user-visible text separate from your executable code before translating them into the desired languages to make the process and communication easier. Usingtranslation memory simplifies the translation process by pulling suggestions from a database that stores previous translations.

Choosing your technology and language service provider are some of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make. Depending on the content and the audience of your app, you can decide on using machine versus human translation (or a mix), and whether or not you should employ an agency like Lionbridge onDemand to professionally manage the localization process.  When the app is finished being localized, you can’t forget to test the translations and software within the locations where they’ll be used.

What to Consider When Localizing

When developing and localizing your app, keep these factors in mind:

  • Text expansion and orientation
  • Cost
  • Aesthetics (imagery, color scheme)
  • Marketing materials

One of the most important factors to consider before localizing your app content is text expansion; language length can greatly vary after translating—in fact, text can become up to 50% longer. Limited screen dimensions require planning in advance for these transformations. Not to mention you’ll need to be careful to anticipate text of all orientations—after all, there are many languages that are read vertically or right-to-left. As with any step in the expansion process, there are costs to consider. If your company is a startup or has limited funds while going global, we’d recommend starting with localizing to one locale or language to test the waters. Costs also depend heavily on the language combination—more commonly used languages will be less expensive to use together, but as the language increases in rarity or complexity, as will translation costs.

The visual elements, including pictures, symbols, and color schemes, should all be culturally and politically neutral—the last thing you’d want is to have a graphic plastered all over your app that turns out to be extremely offensive in some cultures. To stay consistent, all marketing materials, including the app’s listing page in Apple Store or Google Play, advertisements, keywords, and screenshots should all be localized as well.

Looking at a Finished Example

Burger King, an international enterprise, does well to compete against global competitors by localizing its mobile app to each potential target market. Graphics are streamlined and universal across linguistic and cultural borders, and any potential text expansion has been accounted for (burgers look delicious in any language!). All of the accompanying materials have also been translated, including its iTunes Store App listing and Google Play listing. Tailoring its app to different locales within their vast global market, Burger King has made itself a prime example of providing a great looking, easy-to-use app that’s usable just about anywhere.

Lionbridge onDemand can help you take your app global and yield the best results with our App Localization process. With this specialized service designed for the translation of software such as iOS, Android and web applications, Lionbridge onDemand will help expand your app sales by preparing them to be globally available. For more details on the services,click here!