Mobile App Localization: Everything You Need to Know

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Nathan Lucas

18. Juli 2022


Mobile app localization is the latest method of reaching new audiences in their preferred languages. According to Statista, there are about 6.64 billion smartphone users worldwide, which means that 83.89% of the world’s population people currently use their smartphones on the go.

The most popular operating system on those smartphones is Android by Google and iOS by Apple. Both operating systems offer mobile applications (mobile apps) created by various companies that provide a variety of functionality for smartphone users. In today's digital age, companies want the ability to provide much of the digital content that is available on desktop applications while tailoring these applications to their on-the-go customers.

By leveraging mobile app localization technologies, companies can now provide a convenient, in-language experience for customers, employees, and partners on their mobile apps. Having a mobile app in a customer-preferred language can increase visibility and downloads of a company’s app—while boosting sales and customer loyalty.

Learn more about how MotionPoint localizes mobile application content in more detail.

What is App Localization?

App localization refers to the process of adapting your app to different languages, cultures, and markets, beyond translating an app page and interface. App localization is a tactic that ensures users have a smooth journey to an in-app conversion in a targeted market.

Specific steps and best practices must be followed when translating and localizing a mobile app. Mobile app localization adapts an app interface that suits the global markets, often including linguistic and cultural differences. An example of this is the Chinese language which is written in vertical columns, from top to bottom, and the lines read from left to right.

By preparing a mobile app’s interface for various languages, a translation service provider can translate content on an ongoing basis without the need for more development time or maintenance.

How to Localize an App: The Process

The process of localizing an app includes preparing for localization through market research, choosing a localization method, and managing and optimizing that localization. There are also challenges of app localization to keep in mind and you work through the process. Localization is successful when you've explored all possibilities for challenges, planning properly, and having a solid process in place for maximum success.

1. Prep Your Mobile App for Localization

Everything starts with market research when developing a localization strategy. Market research will provide useful insights for adjusting your localization workflow. Potential customers want a localized experience from their first interaction with your brand through the sales process, support, and service.

Research for mobile app localization includes targeting countries and languages to pursue and understanding why you’re motivated to move into those particular locales. Research will also help you understand your potential customers on a deeper level and see if they would be interested in your app. This includes researching already popular localized apps to understand how and why they make a difference to the market you'd like to engage with. Study competitor app layouts and design, and read customer reviews. See what customers like and dislike, including what they may not want, features that may need fixing, anything to show you the pros and cons of possible competitors.

If you're ready to engage with international customers, you'll need to determine what needs to be translated and localized. One consideration to keep in mind when developing a localization strategy is which languages are already available for translation. The App Store is available in 175 regions and 40 languages, and Google Play features around 50 languages to translate apps for users around the world to discover and use.

App Localization vs. Internationalization (I18N) 

Once a company decides to translate its mobile application, a decision must be made, whether it is translation only or a planned Internationalization (I18N) process, which is often recommended if a company is trying to expand to a new region. I18N involves a thorough process of planning, implementing, and adapting the mobile app to a specific area, language, and culture.

The process in I18N includes localization which facilitates the adaption and translation of the audience's preferred language in the mobile app. This consists of all the region's localization aspects, including currency conversion, date formats, and cultural norms. The idea of I18N is to develop the mobile app to appear to have been developed within the local culture and market.

For mobile app localization, the following best practices are recommended when prepping an application for translation:

  • Prep mobile app to support local languages and cultural settings. This will help the app meet user expectations-an example would be Arabic translations, which read right-to-left, unlike English or other western languages.
  • The interface should expand and contract depending on the user’s screen size, as different characters in different languages take up space. View this MotionPoint’s infographic about word growth due to professional translation.
  • During the design and development phase, ensure that the text is kept separate from images. Text strings should be developed away from the development code. It is also recommended that strings be stored in resource files in the appropriate file format, vs. being inside the framework of the codebase. This helps reduce development time and the need to write additional code every time new content needs to be translated.

Building the mobile application with some of these best practices in mind is essential. They can influence the overall functionality and success of the application and ease of translating new content.

2. Choose a Method of Mobile App Localization

There are various ways mobile apps can be localized without needing a team of translators. The following options are the most cost-effective and scalable:

  1. Mobile Software Developments Kits (Mobile SDK) + Translation Service Providers: Software development kits, or SDKs, are downloadable software packages that contain all the tools needed to build mobile apps. In the case of mobile app translation, a translation service provider mobile SDK would be able to translate new content (text strings) without resubmitting the app.
  2. API & Connector Integrations + Translation Service Providers: Connectors or APIs can be utilized by communicating with translation services provided through integration. A company can connect the mobile app to the translation service providers to “pull” new content and translate it using a translation integration. Once translated, a callback notification will be issued so that the customer can make a request for the translated content. An alternative method is that the app can “poll” our API periodically to see if a job has been completed.
  3. Manual + Translation Service Providers: Another alternative is to add translations to the mobile app manually—a translation service provider generates in-language content by request, which is then sent to the mobile app developers to add it to the app. Simple, yet time-consuming, and can have delays due to resubmission of the mobile app.

3. Select a Translation Service Provider

Besides ensuring your mobile app is ready for localization, you should consider the ability of the translation service provider that will be facilitating the translations.

Always look for the automation capabilities of your translation service provider. All new content should be translated and updated automatically. For effortless management, your translation services provider should be able to stay up to date with over-the-air (OTA) updates; this can include software updates, configurations and settings, or encryption keys.

Make sure to find out the translation service provider's localization processes. Is it a continuous process or file-based? Most businesses looking to localize their mobile app are on a strict schedule or require a translation process that requires minimal effort.

  1. File-based approach allows localization managers to track progress, review, and commit changes through document files. This means constant communication between the translator service provider, tech teams, and management is required. You find this approach is common when translations on the mobile app are done manually or through translation integration such as APIs or connectors.
  2. Continuous process approach allows content files or text strings to go into a repository such as GitHub or Bitbucket, and if changes are made, they automatically get sent to translation. With this process, localization managers enjoy a hands-off approach but may find it challenging depending on the translation service provider and their quality of work. You find this approach is common with mobile translation SDKs or through translation integrations.

Both approaches are all dependent on your team and the amount of control your business needs. Some translation services provide a hybrid approach for mobile apps that can include the continuous automated translation process with the workflow visibility of a file-based approach. 

Mobile applications constantly need updating to keep up with trends, security protocols, and consumer preferences. A trustworthy and experienced translation service provider should work with your application, regardless of your changes.

4. App Store Optimization (ASO) and Launch

Similar to how internet marketers use Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, to get web pages ranked highly in search engine results, app developers must use App Store Optimization, or ASO, techniques to get their app to the top of app store search results.  ​​This includes optimizing app titles, keywords, screenshots, app descriptions, etc. With a global app, ASO needs to be performed from scratch in every language, so you’ll need to do research to find the top search terms and popular phrases that will direct potential users to your app.

It's also crucial to think about what the app content looks like on the front-end of Apple and Google app stores. You'll need to ensure your app contains the product page recommendations for the Apple app store and preview assets for the Google Play store. These guides will walk you through the essential elements to showcase your app's features and functionality on its store listing page, and help your app attract new users. Using localization in the preview elements will allow people searching for your app to see right away that your app will feature functionalities they'll both understand and appreciate.

The Challenges of App Localization

There are many benefits to localizing a mobile app, but the process is not without challenges. Here are a few elements of localization to keep in mind both before and during the process so you stay on track.

Slower Time to Market

Localization takes time to develop and implement, and it can be difficult to seamlessly integrate localization and translation into the development workflow if it's not done properly. In order to bring localized software to market more quickly, localization must be a part of the initial software development. As localization occurs simultaneously with other development activities, there's no need to wait until the development is done and only then start translating and localizing the app. This way, continuous localization is part of the continuous deployment process.

Translation Quality and Accuracy Issues

Inaccurate or incorrect translations can lead to misunderstandings and an overall lack of interest in your app. But more importantly, it can be perceived as an insult by your target demographic. Easy-to-use translation tools might be tempting at first because they're free and can get the point across with simple sentences. Evaluating translation quality is more in-depth than simply making sure your translations are "correct. Translation quality must be evaluated to ensure a high degree of quality for both translation and localization projects. It will always benefit your business to pay extra attention to translation and localization because the language and the culture of your target market are what's going to get users to use your app in the first place.

Difficulty Measuring ROI

The measurement of success for any business venture is return on investment (ROI), and translation and localization are one of many investments made on the path to market benefits. But, measuring ROI for translation and localization company can be difficult. ROI is often looked at through a singular lens, comparing the amount of money spent directly to how much profit was brought in.   

Localization measurements can take time to evaluate. Establishing baseline metrics for the specific regions where you're deploying a mobile app can help you find tangible measurements directly related to app localization. Select metrics that make the most sense for your product and business and make sure they align with your overall business goals. You should also consider tracking the customer experience in your different markets. Surveys are a great way to see if your customers are satisfied and where localization can be improved.

The Case for Mobile App Localization

With mobile phone users increasing daily, brands worldwide have launched mobile apps for shopping, banking, transportation, and even healthcare services. Through globalization, companies can compete in foreign markets and generate customer loyalty by utilizing mobile app localization to connect with users in their native language.

With a fully localized mobile app, you can create a holistic experience for your customers by servicing them in their preferred language. This adds significant value throughout the buyer's journey.

MotionPoint is a trusted translation partner for brands worldwide; we offer seamless mobile app localization—from native applications to hybrid and progressive web apps. Contact our team to learn more.

Letzte Aktualisierung: 18. Juli 2022
Nathan Lucas's avatar

About Nathan Lucas

Nathan Lucas is a web developer who enjoys bringing to life the ideas and concepts of the marketing and sales team. If they can dream it, he can build it. When he's not working, he enjoys being a husband and father, adventures in the great outdoors, fitness, and art!

Nathan Lucas's avatar
Nathan Lucas

Digital Marketing Developer