Mobile App Localization

Mobile App Localization: Don’t Get Lost in Translation

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Why localize?

Mobile app localization is something once overlooked by many app developers but these days, it’s almost difficult to ignore. The Apple App Store distributes apps in more than 150 countries and is available in 40 languages. English is the lingua franca of the world but only 8% of the world’s population is English literate.

To put things in perspective, Apple App Store’s top countries in terms of downloads are China, United States, Japan, United Kingdom and Russia. The United States is still number one in terms of revenue. But Japan, China, United Kingdom and Australia are not far behind. As you can see, 3 out of the 5 countries that bring in big revenue are English speaking. So, why is there a need for localization? The effects of localization on individual apps may surprise you.

But there are factors to consider before even attempting to localize. Your app needs localization when:

  1. Your app is designed for localization from the development stage.
  2. There’s a demand for it. You may find requests native language support in reviews
  3. If you want to enter competitive, high revenue regional markets.
  4. If you want to increase an app’s lifespan by introducing it to new markets.

What difference does app localization make?

The effects of App localization is very evident if you check the download rates from app stores around the world in comparison to the rate of downloads before localization.

These effects are quite evident, especially in Asian app stores. In China, 80% of the downloaded free apps are the ones that support the native language, even if it is the simplified form. Japan is a close second with 70%, then South Korea with localization evident on 60% of app downloads.

But aside from high download and revenue rates, app localization also has several other benefits.

  1. Better user experience
  2. Increase in market share
  3. Improvement in user engagement
  4. Higher conversion rates

Is app localization just a matter of translating apps?

The main thing to consider when localizing an app is translating the said app into a native language. A lot of experts suggest placing the localization of content as the main focus. This may involve the localization of currency, date/time, images, in-app prompt and messages, and the overall feel of the app. There are also some app localization strategies and best practices to consider:

  1. Select your target market and then identify the languages and the nuances of its usage in each area. For example, two countries may use the same language but have vastly different cultures. This is even true with English-speaking nations.
  2. A human translator is more favorable since some automatic translation services cannot put words into context and would only translate literally.
  3. Look for translation agencies that have in-house proofreaders.
  4. Have native speakers translate your localized app. Not only would be a test of the content translation but also of the content formatting. This includes line wrapping, word breaks, and layout direction.  These changes make the content more legible and adaptive to the app’s design.
  5. Translations should be quality and consistent.
  6. Check if the app template you bought follows platform-specific localization best practices. Prepare the app for internationalization and then localization during the development stage.
  7. Do not localize every aspect of the app. This is unless the main intention is to sell only to specific regional markets. Some may reskin an app’s sprites and imagery to fit a specific culture. This is only practical if the region of distribution is large or marketable enough.
  8. Don’t fall into stereotypes. Reskinning an app to make it look oriental isn’t a sure-fire way to attract Asian audience. A lot of Asian nations have a lot of exposure to western influence. This is especially prevalent when it comes to entertainment.

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