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Mobile App Localization: Does Your App Need It?

Building an app is one part of the deal. Growing it into a successful, global product is a whole different story.

When the local market starts drying up, most business start looking at the proverbial “other side” – foreign markets. In most cases, language is the key to establishing a presence there.

That’s exactly where mobile app localization gets on the agenda. Should I adapt my product or just keep an English version and hope that it “sticks”?

We could just say “yes, localization would be nice” and end the chat here. But that’s not what you came for, right?

So on to the data and research to back up the need for mobile app localization!

Why App Localization is Important: Facts and Stats

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Common Sense advisory took the time to survey some 2.400 consumers to understand the correlation between language and shopping behavior. Here’s what they found:

  • 72.1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on content written in their own language.
  • 72.4% of consumers mentioned that they would rather purchase a product with information available in their own language.
  • 56.2% of respondents mentioned that being able to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

Okay, so that definitely makes a case for localizing ecommerce and mobile shopping apps among others.

What else do we have?

The European Commission study among the Internet users revealed the following interesting findings:

  • 9 out of 10 Internet users mentioned that when given a choice of languages, they always choose their own language.
  • Almost 1 in 5 Europeans (19%) said they never browse in a language other than their own.
  • And 42% mentioned that they never purchase products/services in other languages.

Keep in mind that a lot of Europeans are multi-lingual and are really fluent in English.

Also, here’s a quick chart illustrating the most commonly used languages on the Internet as of June 2016:

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Yet app internationalization or localization isn’t just about the language.

People may not really care if your weather app is in English or in their native language, but they’ll be majorly frustrated if it only supports temperature in Fahrenheit (or Celsius).

Additional Reading: Weather App Development: Tips and Tricks

That frustration will grow further with more complicated products, where conversions are required for currencies or distances. Or when your product does not account for possible import taxes or local legal restrictions, for instance.

And lastly, there’s the cultural aspect of app localization.

You may have heard about a faux pas Puma had in the United Arab Emirates. The company launched a special line of sneakers to celebrate the country’s 40th national day. The pair was colored the same as the national flag, which created a huge uproar in the society. A lot of people felt deeply offended by how the Puma trivialized their sacred symbol.

Apart from that localization assumes adapting your brand message and content more specifically to the target market. While the Internet makes us feel more “global”, there’s still a lot of country-specific cultural trends, connotations, jokes, memes and common mind schemas of how things are supposed to work.

For instance, Arabic and Hebrew-speakers tend to read from left to the right. In some countries, the calendar week starts on Sunday, in others, on Monday or Saturday. Adapting typefaces for non-Latin scripts is another point to consider from the design standpoint.

Accounting for those subtle differences and make or break your product growth. Speaking of which…

App Localization as a Growth Hack

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Localizing your app can massively pay off, especially if you are trying to tap into the hard-to-reach, yet profitable markets such as China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea among others.

Here are some curious insights on Taiwan, dubbed as the next $1 billion market for Western publishers by AppAnnie:

  • Smartphone penetration in Taiwan is at 78% and users have around 40 apps on their phones installed.
  • Taiwan is among the top-10 countries generating the highest app revenues.
  • Curiously enough, Google Play revenues were 1.3 times higher than iOS App Store revenues last year. Hence you may want to consider Android app localization first.

Some of the popular Western publishers are already seeing amazing results in this market:

  • Clash of Clans has remained among the top 10 grossing apps for the past 12 months.
  • Candy Crush Saga has stayed in the 21st position for the past year in terms of grossing revenues.
  • Criminal Case tightly holds the 26th place in the number of downloads for the past 12 months.

The majority of Western publishers there opted for professional app localization services to adapt their product, and well…succeeded.

An earlier report by Distimo, now part of AppAnnie, features a comparison between the revenues/downloads of localized and non-localized apps:

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Additionally, their report offered a curious case study of an iPhone app, which has witnessed a 128% increase in downloads and a 26% increase in revenues after releasing a localized version of their product.

Bottom line: Having your app available in more than one language puts it in front of a larger audience segment. It starts ranking better at the local App Stores; encourages more sign ups from users, who are not fluent in English and can ultimately help you generate more revenues.

For startups, here’s another clever idea to boost user acquisition rates – crowdsource your app translation.

Sure, the results may not be close to what some of the best app localization services would have done for you. Yet, you can opt for crowdsourcing only certain parts of your product e.g. key glossary terms to get the word out there and gauge the initial interest.

If you plan to take this route, or DIY the whole process, here are some handy tips.

Android and iOS App Localization Best Practices

Make sure that your app name will sound decent in different languages. For instance, if you have a “gift giving” app it may literally be “toxic” in German:

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Also keep an eye on your slogans and app taglines. You don’t want to be just like KFC in China, whose “finger-lickin’ good” slogan turned into “eat your fingers off”.

You may also need to alter your app and business name slightly when using the other alphabets e.g. Cyrillic, Japanese or Chinese to make sure it fits the character requirements on App Store.

Design with some extra space in mind. Some languages are more compact than others. English translations to French or Finnish can vary a lot in terms of length and density.

Make sure that your app interfaces feature an additional padding to accommodate the future translations. You can communicate this directly to the developers when starting your project. They should be able to advise you on the suitable layout managers and make sure the UI will adjust accordingly.

Provide context when outsourcing translations. The company you’ll hire should precisely understand when the translated word/phrase would be used. Otherwise, you risk having some awkward expressions in your product.

Mind the system-provided formatting methods for time, dates, currencies, numbers etc. Always opt to use the system-native formats rather than inventing custom ones for your app. Both Android and iOS have clear instructions on formatting.

Don’t forget to test your app. Make sure it’s perfect on the pixel level – no clipped or overlapping texts on the screen; proper alphabet sorting everywhere, no untranslated phrases left out.

In a nutshell, that’s how to localize an app. Typically, app localization costs aren’t that high. If you have a product with an international potential, the ROI of localization can be significant as already mentioned above.

Alty team would be happy to advise you on the tech side of app localization and share our expertise in foreign markets!

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