8 Essentials to Successful Mobile App Localization


We’ve gone far beyond the ‘one country — one world’ model. We’re rapidly moving toward globalization in data distribution. And thanks to the Internet sharing information worldwide has become immensely fast and easy.

It’s specifically true in mobile app development — what with the number of smartphone users worldwide growing every year.

Image source — statista.com

Today, if you want your app to reach global success.. Well, you need to make it global. Obviously :)

It’s exactly what Niantic did with Pokémon Go. Now it’s a worldwide-known AR game available in dozens of countries, even though initially it was targeting the US, Australia and New Zealand only. Later on, it was localized into other languages, such as French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.

But Pokémon Go isn’t the most demonstrative example of why localization is a must for an app to make a global impact. In case of Pokémon Go, even before localization, the game had broken into the open, so users were already waiting for it.

Image source — applanga.com

You may treat Pokémon Go an exception to the common rule. However, it’s an exception that does prove the rule — if you want your app to be recognized worldwide, you must give localization and internationalization a thorough thought.

The difference between localization and internationalization may seem pretty vague. They both seem to be just about translation, right?

Wrong! Like, Flat-Earth-Theory-style wrong :) Why? Let’s find that out.

Localization is about adopting your product to meet the linguistic, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market.

Localization, or to be in trend l10n, is not simply about the language, it includes comprehensive rethinking of visual content, graphics, sounds — all in order to level cultural differences.

Internationalization, on the other hand, is a way to make localization process easier. It helps to consider different fonts, various screen sizes, and language orientation.

Basically, these two processes go hand in hand and every app developer should put them into practice immediately.

Image source — smartling.com

Let’s talk about localization some more.

First, here are a few insights to demonstrate why localization is not some wish-wash but an absolute must-have:

1. Today about 90% of mobile device activity is concentrated within mobile apps.

2. Revenues in the mobile industry are growing rapidly: it’s expected that gross revenue across all app stores will exceed $101 billion globally by 2020.

3. APAC (Asia Pacific region) is projected to gain the most perspective with over 198.9 million apps being installed in 2021.

Impressive, huh?

Now, you’re probably considering localization even more. According to stats, about 75% of consumers agree that when faced with the choice of buying two similar products, they are more likely to purchase the one that has product information in their own language.

So, what do you start with if you want your app to go international?

1. Localization Is Not Mere Translation

Localization requires an understanding of the context where the text will be applied.

A Swedish company Electrolux got some spotlight for some really bad localization case once. They created an ad for American customers that read: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”.

It goes without saying that it was a translator’s epic fail. Some would say that bad publicity is still publicity. But keep it rational. If you’re not sure you can successfully pull out this kind of stunt, don’t go for it.

Image source — adland.tv

Even though this particular example is not about app marketing in various app stores, the idea is pretty clear. You need to keep in mind that languages don’t translate word by word the way a multilingual dictionary might do. Sometimes you need to turn a phrase upside down while translating it into another language to convey the same meaning.

2. Don’t Trust Auto Translation

Google Translate is a nice tool; however, you can’t trust it when doing a professional translation. It’s well known for its ridiculous translation mistakes that could make you and your friends laugh your heads off. But when you’re doing business you obviously want to have an accurate translation that would not ruin your public image.

Image source — searchenginepeople.com

That’s particularly true when translating into Chinese or another language that differs considerably from your own. In this case, you won’t be able to check if the translation is at least somewhere close to the truth.

Image source — twitter.com

Moreover, in terms of keywords, auto translation can be your dire enemy. The word “car” is likely to be automatically translated as “voiture” in French. However, “voiture” is not a very popular keyword compared to “auto” word, which also takes less space leaving you more characters for other keywords on the App Store.

3. Numbers Need to Be Adapted

We’re living in the world of various ununified measurement systems that vary quite a lot from one country to another.

Apple did a great thing: they’ve provided an improved API to manage localization. They added the possibility to display an amount of time in different languages.

Image source — apptamin.com

Also, they’ve done this with some other metrics such as energy, length, and mass measurements.

But what’s most important, Apple Corporation has developed instructions for localizing your app, after you’re done with internationalizing its user interface and code.

4. Consider the Layout

Some languages, like Arabic, Hebrew and Persian have reverse text direction, opposite to what we’re accustomed to. And it’s not just the text that gets reversed — the order of your images has to be considered as well.

Image source — stackoverflow.com

Also, if while developing an app you plan to localize it, take into consideration the length of words in different languages. The German language can take up to 30% more space than English. However, Japanese words may require less space than the English ones: the word “information”, for instance, consists of only two characters in Japanese.

5. One Element — One Name

Localization is a big thing to do and smaller things can easily slip out of attention. Do pay attention to the most common mistakes — such as different naming for the same elements. Such buttons as ‘Ok’ and ‘Cancel’ should be of special concern. For example, in Italian version you write “Clicca qui” as an equivalent to “Press OK”, the button name should be ‘Qui’ instead of the common ‘OK’.

6. Cultural Context

Every single country has its own, absolutely unique culture. Even gestures and symbols can have absolutely different meaning — being perfectly polite and fine in one country, but absolutely offensive in the other. For instance, in the US, “thumb-up” means ‘OK’. In Iran and Greece, according to Wikipedia, this gesture can be highly offensive.

Image source — studopedia.info

Color scheme is important as well. If you have a bright game design and consider localizing your app for the Japanese market, keep in mind that purple is the color of danger in Japan. You’d better avoid using it as the main game color — just so as not to frighten off your users in this region.

7. Localize the Keywords

One of the most essential things you need to do is to organize and optimize keywords for every locale you have. Doing so allows you to help people find your app in their local app store.

And here our old friend — “car” — will help demonstrate what we mean. In the Spanish language “Coche” is commonly used for “car”, while in Latin America (Argentina), the same Spanish word is commonly used for “baby-stroller”. So, if you are looking for customers who are looking for a car, probably you shouldn’t use the “coche” word in Argentine — do your research and find another equivalent instead.

8. Localization Testing

When you’re done translating, it’s time to test your app. You need to implement extremely thorough localization and linguistic testing to be sure that your app doesn’t have problems with layout and content.

Image source — pinterest.com

The main goal for localization testing is to ensure that the app content corresponds to your target region. To reduce your testing time, you can resort to test automation.

The most common things to be checked during localization testing are:

· translation accuracy

· spelling errors

· misallocated text

· cultural compliance

· politically sensitive content.


If you’ve finally decided to localize your app, you’d better base it not only on your gut feeling and linguistic capabilities, but also refer to some verified instruments. Do some research, find out what are the peculiarities of app design and marketing in the region you’re planning to operate in. Consult professional translators and localization experts. Patriots or not, your users will not appreciate it if you sc*ew up their culture by confusing colors, gestures or words. Do show their culture some respect — and they will show you twice as much loyalty in return.

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