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What is app localization ?

time 5 mins

One of our client, a global pharmaceutical group headquartered in France recently entrusted us with the “localization” of one of their existing mobile app for the Vietnamese market. This app, already launched in Europe & USA is a powerful media to raise public awareness about main lifestyle induced diseases of our time, which are clearly on  the rise in Vietnam as the country embraces mass consumption.


In this project context, the objective was to create a media that could reach the local audience with a first obvious obstacle being the language  (french is barely spoken in Vietnam anymore and english literacy, despite being on a steady rise is still limited especially in the countryside).


What does localization mean? Is it just about translating content? And how do you proceed if you want to localize an existing application. Follow the guide


App owners, why should you care about localization?


The main reason to localize your application is to extend your user base and address a larger market. Think about this way: according to App annie report 2018, China, the United States and Japan are the three biggest app markets in the world. Together they generate more revenue than every other country in the world combined.


However, English proficiency is low in both Japan and China, and smartphone users show a strong preference for localized apps. If your app is already in English, just developing versions for the Japanese and Chinese markets and using the official Appstores to distribute will allow you to reach more than half the global market !


How to proceed then?

Travelers often experience it when visiting a distant place for the first time: the cultural gap. It starts when you leave the plane and realise that your usual way of doing things don’t work as you expect. Different places, different habits & behaviors: this obviously will impact the way people interact with your app and leaves you with an important strategic choice to make:


A first approach is to release an application localised with minimum features and content (i.e simply translating the existing interfaces). This Minimum viable localisation (MVL) still offers value to users, while requiring significantly less time and investment on the development & content production side. It is a great option to test a market before investing or if you want to hit the market fast, as our client did (they wanted to launch the new application on a precise day)


The Deep localization approach by contrast, is about creating a localized app integrating the cultural differences of the new market. This approach is certainly heavier in resources and should involve local experts who understands the market specifics. New name, new branding, new UxUi, new content & new features... if an app is serious about doing long-term business in a chosen market, it is definitely the way to go.


Localizing the app

Adding  new language

Once you have your strategy, implementation can begin. And it starts with a look under the hood, at the app source code to check it allows a new language addition.


If all the content you need to localize is hardcoded (headers,button names, menus…), you will have to rewrite the code to separate content and source code. Content should be stored on an external file called “resource file” and used by the app depending on the language settings (1 language = 1 resource file)


Then you should define the language settings rules. Website usually allow users to choose their language, but the approach on a mobile app is a bit different, as we already know the user language from the smartphone language settings. The best practice is to use the same language as in the smartphone (and define a by default language if not available in the app)


Reworking the UxUi

To deeply localized an application, you may want to rework fully the UX/UI following the usual process (Discoveries Workshop, Wireframes & Mockups, Prototype & iterations...). Words in different languages don’t have the same length so you may have theck carefully the UI make sure it still looks great. Some languages are read from right to left, or use special characters (chinese, russian, arabic)


Content production / translation

Probably the biggest part of the project. Will you do it in house or freelance it?


Content has to be produced itself for the app but also all the marketing material (landing page, email) you will need to promote it, the policies (terms & conditions,privacy..) that are requested to publish an app on the Apple / Google Appstores


Others elements

Do you remember the time NASA lost a spacecraft due to a metric math mistake? That is a fact, we don’t use the same measurement units across the world so make sure you manage properly Time & Date (format and reference), Distance / Weights, currencies


App Stores content

To create your app profile on the store, you will have to provide the app name and a short description, and visual assets (screenshots, promotional video) that will have to be localized as well. In addition, you will be requested to provide a link to your privacy policy describes what user data you collect and what you do with it, a support url as App stores want to make sure users have a way to reach you.


Lastly don’t forget to plan for maintenance so you can keep your newly localized app leveled with the other existing versions


May 29 2019