Over the past few years, mobile technology has developed at a blistering pace. From the most basic handsets – that some cleverly refer to as ‘dumb phones’ – to smartphones, tablets and wearables; the whole spectrum of portable technology has become highly integrated into our everyday lives, sharing a common denominator: the apps.
Apps have been around for a good couple of decades – remember the ‘snake’ game or the ringtone editor on your 90s phone? Nowadays, the app environment has become so diverse that there’s probably an app for anything you could think of. In terms of revenue, mobile apps are expected to reach a staggering worth of $70 billion by 2017!  This should come as no surprise, with the news that tablets are outselling PCs for the first time in the Western world, whilst people in less developed areas tend to go straight to low-cost tablets and smartphones, bypassing the use of desktop computers altogether.
As a result, this growth is driving the development of app and, therefore, the need for apps to be distributed in more parts of the world. In order to meet this ever increasing demand, localisation must come into play. Broadly speaking, the localisation of apps means adapting an app for a given market. Not only does it involve the translation of its content, but also making the user interface appealing according to the conventions of the target language and culture, such as dates, number or currencies formats. Put simply, app localisation is all about recreating the user experience of the original app into the localized app, thereby enhancing said user’s experience.
Because Language Matters
More often than not, developers put a great deal of effort into the creation of their apps. The desire for these apps to cross boundaries and reach new markets would logically lead to localisation. However, localisation can put some developers in a real quandary due to the associated costs and complications. Fortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When it is done properly by specialists, localisation offers a great opportunity to reach a new audience and increase revenue. In fact, localisation costs are minimal when compared to its return on investment. Studies show that by adding just one more language, apps can increase their weekly downloads by 128 percent on average and their revenue by 26 percent in just one week! Therefore, the central question is not whether to localise or not, but rather into which languages.
Before initiating any localisation effort, finding out which languages will make a bigger impact should go to the top of the list of any developer to ensure that localisation is worth every penny. In the current paradigm, Western markets, such as France and Germany, are already saturated with apps. In this regard, developers can play their trump card by implementing a good localisation strategy – any attempt involving Machine Translation is doomed to failure. As such, hiring a good team of professionals that are fully aware of the target culture conventions and have the right technical know-how will make any app stand out from the competition.
On the other hand, potential market opportunities are flourishing across Asia, Africa and South America with the advent of cheaper devices and mobile subscriptions. Asian markets, for example, are showing no sign of deterioration – quite the opposite in fact! Based on recent research, the most undersupplied languages in the app market are Chinese (simplified), Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil), Korean, Japanese, Russian, German, French and Italian.
On this subject, some languages need more care than others, so to speak. While Latin scripts, such as Spanish or English, are easier to handle, non-European languages can be a nightmare without the right equipment and expertise. For example, English is read from right to left, row by row; however there are languages that are presented from right to left and by column – such as East Asian languages – and even the so-called ‘bi-directional’ languages, which are read from right to left, with the exception of numbers and foreign words, which are presented from right to left! These languages are often deemed to be too complicated, because the device needs to deal with a complex reordering process. But there’s nothing to worry about when the task is left to professionals who fully understand the encoding process.
Getting in on the act
Most people assume that localisation only concerns the app itself, but in reality, this is just one part, if not the most crucial, of the entire package. There are many elements of the app that ought to be taken into consideration in order to achieve the best results, including:
- The app. Unlike computer software, apps normally have less content and thus, take shorter time to localise. However, that doesn’t make them a piece of cake! Localisable elements are normally displayed in the user interface: menus, alert messages, dialogue boxes, icons, buttons and titles. Developers should pay attention to the length of the localised strings because mobile screens are significantly smaller and different languages can often take up more or less space when expressing the same thing. For example, German can be 35% ‘longer’ than English, whereas Japanese can take up to 55% less space than English. It goes without saying that consumers also appreciate localised audio and video.
- App’s metadata. Apps are normally distributed through digital platforms known as ‘app stores or marketplaces’. They can be either mobile-operator specific (ie. Google Play for Android) or independent (such as third-party apps) – some markets rely more on independent app stores! These platforms typically include editable information, such as the app name, description, version updates, screenshots and keywords, which help the apps to be discovered easily. These elements, however minor they seem, should be localised too, as they will provide more visibility and therefore, increase the number of downloads significantly. Keywords, in particular, need to be researched thoroughly using analytic tools to enhance search engine optimisation.
- Promotional material. Messages and websites promoting the app should be localised consistently with the localised app. Nowadays, most marketing strategies are carried out through social media. Facebook and Twitter are two such examples, but these may not be the most popular social media sites in the target culture. There’s a plethora of channels available that developers should investigate in order to implement an effective strategy.
So Now What?
To sum up, with less turnover time and associated costs than other types of localisation, the localisation of apps represents a terrific opportunity for developers to reach new markets, increase profit and make themselves heard. Calling upon a specialist can spare the developer the headache of trying to tackle the task alone… After all the hard work, what’s stopping you from going the extra mile to achieve your goal?
To learn more about app localisation read our app translation page.