Localization of Mobile Apps

Co-Founder

Alexandra Kazemir-Yampolska

29.01.2024

8 minutes

Why do we consider localization to be a key prerequisite for international success?

According to a survey by CRWB researchers, which involved online shoppers from 59 countries, for 2 of 5 consumers, the decisive factor when making a purchase decision is the availability of product information in their native language. This research includes both web and mobile interfaces, but for sure for a pure mobile-only dataset those numbers are even higher.

This suggests that an English-only application has slim chances of success in non-English speaking markets, despite English being considered an international lingua franca. Therefore, localization in languages native to the target audience is essential.

Localization: Your Gateway International Scalability

Localization is the process of adapting a product or service to meet the language, cultural, and other specific needs of a target audience. Beyond simple translation, it encompasses interface adaptation, audiovisual content, date and time formats, currency, measurement units, and symbols and icons that resonate with the region.

Degrees of Customization for Localization

While translation and localization share common ground, their goals differ. Translation aims to preserve the original content’s meaning, whereas localization seeks to ensure the utmost convenience and user-friendliness for the application’s target users.

In the dynamic world of startups, mobile applications, and MVP (Minimum Viable Product) development, RedCat recognizes the pivotal role of localization in scaling businesses globally. It’s not just about translating words; it’s about culturally connecting with your audience and ensuring your application speaks their language in every sense, especially because startups usually have only one shot to disrupt each new local market.

How to Gauge Effective Localization

At RedCat, we assess the effectiveness of localization by analyzing product and marketing metrics along with our Client’s Marketing team. The comparison starts with the analysis of engagement-related KPIs of the English version of iOS or Android applications versus their localized counterparts.

If your sales figures remain unchanged post-localization, it might indicate that the product does not meet the local users’ needs, or there could be common pitfalls encountered such as choosing the incorrect language, poor quality translation, or failure to consider the cultural nuances of the audience.

Reasons to localize your application and why is localization important

For a successful foray into foreign markets, companies must carefully select their localization approaches, considering the specific needs and expectations of each region. This opens up tremendous opportunities for growth and scalability, unattainable if limited to a single market. Localizing your app means not losing rather than gaining additional customers.

Long story short: talk to locals about their dislikes in your app, and beforehand invest in the flexibility of localization tools (e.g. your product architecture capabilities).

How to Prepare for Application Localization

Suppose there is a project that is not prepared for translation. The main task of the developer is to layout the program so that when translated into any language, the application looks and works normally.
The second mandatory step is the choice of languages for product localization. As you already know, besides the English version, these should be the languages of the target regions.

The ten most popular languages in the world by number of speakers and buyers

Do not forget: different dialects and even languages can be spoken within a single region, as in Canada or Switzerland. In any case, focus not on the language ranking or the number of residents in the country, but on the presence of your target audience and their purchasing power.

Stages of Application Localization

Localization is a complex and multi-stage process that requires time, effort, and resources from a company. However, each step is crucial for the successful introduction of a product into international markets and understanding with local users.

1. Pre-localization application adaptation includes optimizing the design for flexible text and interface element placement, accommodating changes in text length in different languages. That means, for a custom software built from scratch, we include additional time for UI/UX designs during a Discovery phase, and extra time for the front-end layout part into our estimate, increasing overall front-end hours up to 10% for projects with RTL/LTR both present.

2. Preparation of files for localization. For strings with numerical specifiers, it’s better to create a separate file. The ideal approach looks like this: Founders and product managers define key markets, talk to our Business analyst, BA talks to a tech team, and suggests at least two options to handle localization, starting from real-time usage of Google Translate API to a tailored offline-mode available files with content within the app.

3. Trial translation in a familiar language to identify and correct all mistakes. Usually, at this step, product managers make a pivot towards more good-looking and natural options if not yet.

4. Testing and correcting errors, imperfections, and bugs stage, in case of using .json files or experimenting with data/currency/color palettes.
Translation into other, similar languages, and app version release.

Types of Application Localization from a Tech Perspective

When embarking on the journey of localizing mobile applications, developers must consider several technical aspects that influence both the functionality and user experience of the app across different markets.

Resource File Localization

The core of mobile app localization lies in resource file adaptation. For platforms like Android and iOS, developers can leverage respective resource frameworks that allow for the separation of locale-specific elements such as strings, layout files, and multimedia resources. This means that the application can load and display the appropriate resources based on the user’s language and region settings. Efficient use of these frameworks not only simplifies the process of updating content for different locales but also streamlines the management of localized assets.

Layout and Design Adaptation

Given the varied screen sizes and resolutions across devices, mobile applications must feature flexible layouts that can adapt to both the translation of text and the right-to-left (RTL) text flow used in languages such as Arabic and Hebrew. This may include rethinking navigation structures and ensuring that interactive elements remain accessible and visually balanced. Dynamic layout components that adjust to content length can prevent truncation or awkward spacing that often occurs when text expands or contracts due to translation. Obviously, at this stage, the costs of localizing the app are affected the most.

Cultural and Regional Considerations

Beyond textual translation, technical localization must also account for regional conventions and cultural nuances. This involves formatting dates, times, currencies, and numerical values to match local practices. Developers need to integrate locale-aware parsing and formatting libraries to handle these variations automatically. Additionally, adapting imagery and color schemes to avoid cultural misinterpretation or offense can be crucial for user acceptance in different markets.

Content Localization

Involves adapting textual and multimedia content for the target audience. This includes translating articles, product descriptions, video materials, and images. Content localization makes information accessible and understandable to local users.

Continuous Localization Integration

With mobile applications being in a constant state of evolution, a technical setup that supports continuous localization is essential. This involves integrating localization processes into the continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline. Automation tools can detect changes in the source language files and trigger workflows for translation and integration without manual intervention. This setup ensures that as the application grows and changes, all language versions remain up-to-date, providing a consistent experience for all users regardless of updates and new feature releases.

By considering these technical facets, mobile applications can achieve a level of localization that feels natural and intuitive to users from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds, thereby enhancing global reach and user satisfaction.

On the other hand, if you outsource localizing your app to a team of translators, there are proven localization tools to speed up interaction and time-to-market. To address this, there is a variety of tools for Product teams to allow translators to gain access to a repository or environment where files for translation are stored. As soon as a new file appears, they begin their work. This approach saves time that would otherwise be spent on setting up a new order and discussing details, enabling developers to receive the updated version in all target languages promptly.

Understanding Localization Challenges and Live Examples

When embarking on the creation of software, few anticipate the future need for translation into other languages. As a result, developers often release products that are not ready for localization, leading to additional complexities down the line. It is far more efficient to consider all aspects of localization early on to facilitate the process when the time comes.

UX and Interface Adaptation

What should be the primary concern? The variation in word length across different languages. It’s manageable if, in the localized version, a button or menu item’s name becomes shorter. But what if it becomes longer and doesn’t fit?

UX and Interface Adaptation Examples

An example from AliExpress’ screenshots illustrates how interface structure can change through localization for the same request in different languages.

Localization of UX and Interface Adaptation: AliExpress Example

Cultural Subtext

When discussing a particular language, it’s crucial to consider the regions where it is used, its dialects, and linguistic nuances. For instance, the English language has different terms for a bin for deleted files: “bin” in British English and “trash” in American English.

Cultural Subtext in Localization

An additional intricate detail is the localization of images and symbols, which is indispensable due to the cultural peculiarities of a specific region. For example, the STOP sign is almost universally recognizable but varies in appearance in Japan. Therefore, it’s essential to verify the perception of symbols or signs in a particular region before using them to avoid misinterpretation or awkward situations.

Adaptation of Additional Elements

Localization affects the modification of various indicators depending on the accepted norms in the country or region, such as temperature, measurement units, date format and currencies.

Localization of Date format for different countries

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