App Internationalization vs. Translation vs. Localization



Global going mobile

There’s no denying it, smartphone use has exploded and 2016 will bring over 3.4 billion users globally according to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report. Ethnology sources estimate there are 340 million native English speakers amongst the world’s population. With this potential, app developers are eager to reach into the pot with a seamlessly designed Anglophone mobile application in order to reach the maximum user audience. But within these 335 million English speakers, there is a huge variety of native and second languages, cultural nuances, and geographical context represented. Arguably, the smartphone market in certain primarily Anglophone nations will soon become saturated as the number of annual new smartphone users per year reaches a plateau. Elsewhere, however, this number continues to grow dramatically and provide ample expansion opportunity for app developers. However, these new global users each come with their own baggage based on contextual surroundings. In optimal app expansion internationally, differences in figures like disposable income, consumption habits, and preferred payment method amongst end users become crucial user targeting parameters to maximize local downloads. Taking the time to get to know mobile audiences at a local level will show significant long-term benefits in user loyalty. Let’s not forget, even referencing the trunk (of a car) in the US would leave UK users perplexed at such a reference to an elephant body part!


Keeping up with internationality

The easy part seems to be app internationalization, expanding reach beyond a national standpoint to achieve international downloads. However, many developers simply stop here, and miss out on potential to bring valuable results in terms of UA and lifetime user value. “I need to reach non-native English speakers, I’ll just translate any textual app content to the local language”. While translations are a good first step, effective localization does not stop here. Localization takes into consideration not only language of preference, but is instead entirely adapted to reflect the users’ daily environment. Effective localization requires a much deeper work: from your creative assets to promote your app, to the character name, up to the mechanics.

Even key mobile gaming players are getting creative in their internationalization campaigns. King (Candy Crush Saga, Paradise Bay, etc.), one of the most successful mobile game studios ever, had to partner with Kakao in order to reach the Korean market more effectively. Machine Zone (Game of War), is partnering with celebrities from around the world to promote their app with the right ads in specific markets.

Your app requires deep intellectual reflection for proper internationalization, and a strong understanding of user context at a local level. The time where ten thousands installs a day will get you in the top 10 free app on the appstores is over, and so is the time when translation alone is enough to get loyal users on your app worldwide.


So what does localization mean, really?

Let’s again take a mobile game as an example, imagine a fictitious airplane flying game features scenes flying above New York City and in-app upgrades available for purchase only in USD. You notice that downloads are growing in Asian markets, particularly in Japan. Your targeted Japanese user would become much more valuable and loyal if this game were properly localized: presented in Japanese with attention to regional dialect and linguistic nuances, with upgrades available for purchase in Yen via their prefered payment method, and featuring scenes of more familiar urban landscapes such as Tokyo.

With an intuitive app across the globe, local users are not only be able to innately interact, but the interactions familiar, instantly establishing a context of relatability and encouraging further use. Localization enables a virtuous circle: ad campaigns will have a bigger impact and as your eCPI decreases, your users are more engaged with impactful relevant content, and thus they become more loyal and paying users.