App Localization: A Worthwhile Investment

When they were first developed, mobile applications seemed like a passing fad. As time went on, however, they began to dominate the mobile web. According to the Flurry report in 2014, 90% of mobile device activity took place on apps as opposed to mobile browsers. App Annie Intelligence predicts that the global mobile app market will expand from $51 billion in 2016 to $101 billion in 2020.

In other words: apps are a worthy business investment.

However, if your app only uses one language, date, time, and/or currency setting, your audience will be limited to the specific location where those settings are used. Mobile apps can be used and downloaded anywhere in the world. Why not expand to other audiences?

Is Localization Worth It?

A study from Distomo showed that within just one week of localizing iPhone app text, there were 128% more downloads per country and a 26% increase in revenue per country added via localization. App developer David Janner kept tabs on the traffic from one of his apps before and after localizing it—and the results were astonishing. Before localizing, 76% of traffic was from English-speaking countries. After localizing, around 90% of downloads were from non-English speaking countries, and overall downloads were up by 767%!

Is My App Localization-Ready?

If you want to adapt your app to different languages and local settings, you need to first make sure that your app can support those changes. A couple of things to consider:

Make sure your layout is flexible: Languages vary considerably in how much space they take up. Some languages are “wordier” than others. Finnish can come out as much as 60% longer than English, while Hebrew may come out 40-50% shorter. Different alphabets may take up more or less vertical space. If the layout cannot accommodate these changes well, you’ll end up with text that overlaps with other elements, cuts off in the wrong places, or is otherwise difficult to read even if it’s translated perfectly.

If you plan on using Hebrew, Arabic, or Persian, you’ll need the layout to support right-to-left text direction. You can always create a new layout for languages that don’t fit, but obviously, it will save you a lot of time to have one layout that works for all of them.

You can externalize resources that need to be localized: Any data files, such as text, images, videos, etc. that will require translation can be placed in external files rather than embedded inside the code of your app. This makes it much easier to localize them, because all you’ll need to do is create new versions of those resource files for each language. Your code can then simply load the appropriate resource files at runtime.

How Do I Localize My App?

If you are a native speaker of the target language, you can go ahead and translate it yourself. If not—even if you are somewhat proficient in the target language—you should hire a professional app translation service or localization team. Remember, a bad translation can be worse than no translation at all. Make sure to provide as much context as possible, so translators can choose the wording according to the space available as well as the text’s location in the app.

Don’t Forget QA Testing!

Before you release your localized app, make sure to test it—preferably with a professional QA team that can assure its quality both in terms of linguistics and in terms of functionality. This can save you a lot of problems later and ensure that you get a good return on your investment.

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