Many app developers think that creating an app in English is enough to reach a global audience.
However, by following this strategy, you are missing over 90% of potential app downloads. Mobile app localization may be just your ticket to entering new markets and attracting more users.
In this article, we'll look into the steps of mobile app localization, discover the difference between localization and internalization, and talk about how to customize your app for the local audience in a specific app store.
What is mobile app localization?
App localization enables your app to fit the needs of users who speak other languages so that everything from units of measurement to currencies and idiomatic expressions is optimized for them.
By ensuring that your app is appealing to users in a wide variety of locations around the world, you create a tremendous opportunity for growth that you never could have achieved within just one country.
This includes localizing key metadata and all critical elements of App Store Optimization that affect app store ranking.
These are a bit different for the iOS App Store and Android Google Play, as you can see in the visual below. Optimizing visual elements—like the icon, screenshots, videos, etc—is also part of the app localization process.
Why do you need app localization?
Localization is about understanding your audience across various markets. Language and culture have a great effect on user perceptions and habits, so making the necessary adjustments to an app is crucial for successful global expansion.
It's important to remember that—while English may be recognized as the universal language—not everyone is fluent or comfortable with all-English content. And it's well-known that consumers are more likely to connect with a brand that communicates with them in their native language. Which makes perfect sense, right?
Establishing this connection goes beyond a straight translation. Acknowledging and reflecting cultural differences, using local vernacular and native expressions is key in enforcing a relationship with users.
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The global marketplace of app localization
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 shown 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.
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.
Internationalization vs. Localization
Though the two terms are often used synonymously, there is actually a difference between app internationalization and localization.
Internationalization refers to the technical structure of the app and whether it could actually translate to different languages and be used in other countries. It is ideally taken into account when the app is first created, as it can be difficult to change post-launch.
Internationalization typically involves designing and developing the app to support non-Latin alphabets and bidirectional text (for example, switching from English to Japanese).
Alphabetic characters in different languages can exceed the width limits of Unicode standards. You may have encountered this error before: when emojis don't fit in the Unicode character limits, they break.
Internationalization also enables code that can pull data for locational preferences like dates and time zones.
Just because an app is internationalized does not mean that it is necessarily localized. Localizing an app is about refining the details (such as language, date and time, currency, and other factors discussed above) while internationalizing an app gives it the necessary framework to later localize, should the opportunity present itself.
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. This means 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:
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.
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 the 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 entitle that vary by locale.
So, use the system made available to you, rather than your own, as this will eradicate compatibility issues.
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.
Phrase'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.
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.
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.
The 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.