Localizing Mobile Apps to Reach New Markets

August 11 2014

Before coming to the question whether you should localize your app or not; let’s discuss what localization is.


Localization of mobile application is basically the translation and adaptation of all the marketing materials apart from languages, like images, colours, audio and video files and even storylines or characters in the case of game apps. It also includes changing the metadata in the App Store. Now, coming to the main question:

“Do you really need to localize your app?”

Approximately 95% of the world’s population does not have English as their first language. So, if you’re interested in sharing your product with all these users, you should really localize your app.

Localizing mobile apps

As already mentioned, approximately five per cent of the world’s population are native English speakers. Though there is a small fraction that downloads apps but doesn’t speak English as a first language, it’s similar to downloading a French-language app when your high-school French classes let you understand its basic essence. But it’s a sure fact that you would not prefer the French version of the new app over the one in your native language. There may be cases when you don’t understand the language at all. Would you even consider downloading such an app? Obviously, not!

Now, let’s take a look at some real numbers. Although, the US app market being the biggest revenue-generating market is growing at 81% per year, the app market in Japan, which is only two-thirds of the US market is growing by 280%.

Elements of Apps that need to be localized

Now let’s talk come to the actual components of the app that require localization.

  • Language
    The first and foremost consideration while localizing the app is to decide the locales or languages the app needs to be localized into. This is necessary to ensure that the basic message of the app is appropriate for those locales.

  • Story line
    Along with the language modifications, it is required to make changes to the overall storyline of the app, especially in game applications. These considerations require changes in superficial aspects like title and marketing or they could also require making changes to the actual characters, themes, or other elements of the app.

  • Themes and color schemes
    Speaking of themes, it is possible to externalize the colour scheme while developing the app for localization purposes. This is important basically because different colours have different meanings in different cultures. As an example, white is considered a peaceful colour in many Western countries, while it represents mourning and death in most the Asian countries.

  • Images
    Including text on images makes the localization process, a slow and costly affair. It’s better to use plain text in the apps rather than using images with text on them. Since translating the former is a lot easier. If there is still a need for such images, it’s recommended that the original Photoshop .psd files remain saved and are supplied to the localization provider. This will make it easier to get to the text and tweak it accordingly.

  • Videos
    If the app contains videos, again, it’s important not to use text in them. Using textual elements in the video that needs to be translated may require either rebuilding the whole video or using the subtitles. Also, videos can include written text as well as spoken language. Spoken language is necessary for some apps and in such cases, there are a variety of options that can be used for translation viz. subtitling, dubbing, or recreating the video entirely.

  • Text
    Finally, the actual text needs to be localized. Depending on the platform the app is developed for (like iOS, Android or Windows), the file format sent to the localization provider is different, but intelligent vendors can easily handle them; though, it’s important that the app is internationalized and text is separated from the code.

    Language Localization

So, we can readily conclude that localizing the apps is highly beneficial and with a major fraction of people prefer to use apps in their native language, it is indeed essential to use localized apps. Also, there are many elements that need to be considered while doing localization like language, storyline, themes, images, videos and textual content.

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