Language Technology / Localization Tips

Localizing iPhone Apps – Quick Tips

A picture of Jasmine Liu, Business Development Manager at CSOFT InternationalGuest blog entry by Jasmine Liu, Business Development Manager at CSOFT.

Localizing iPhone apps is something I’ve become an expert in after dropping my iPhone 3GS a few weeks ago. Ah, the cracked the glass. And I mean really cracked it. But I promised myself that I wouldn’t get a new phone until next January so, in the meantime, I’ve still got to make do with my Frankenstein phone.

In order to keep from cutting myself every time I thumb through my apps, I taped a giant piece of anti-glare film over the glass. It’s frustrating to see all my precious little applications living behind a terrible-looking screen—and it’s really difficult to navigate. But I can still use it and—in a typical deranged Apple-fan fashion—I’m just happy that I still have my iPhone, in spite of its not being pretty anymore.

Seeing as I’d rather tape my iPhone up like an electronic mummy than exchange it for something else, it’s clear that I’ve got a bit of an addiction. And it’s not an addiction that’s limited to Americans alone. A lot of iPhone App developers are turning to localization as a strategy to further increase their sales abroad, a sign that foreign consumers also suffer an unhealthy dependence on their beloved apps.

A picture of an iPhone with broken glass.
(I’ll admit: I cried a little when it happened… Ok, I cried a lot.)

As early as February 2009, back when only a few apps had been fully localized, I came across Mike Bernardo’s call for localization services on Twitter. Mike runs Green Volcano Software, where he has a great vision for localizing their highly-rated iPhone application, Flickit. This app enables Flickr users without native English skills to enjoy a better photo sharing experience—better, in fact, than using the official Flickr.com iPhone App itself.

From working with Mike, I’ve learned a lot about localizing iPhone apps, and I’d just like to share a few tips with the developers out there who are considering localization as a strategy to increase revenue.

Which languages should I localize into?

Often times, when developers decided to localize their apps, they aren’t quite sure which target languages to choose. When choosing strategic target markets, there are several important factors to consider. First of all, app developers should take a look at a statistical breakdown by country of key data that will have an effect on how their app is received abroad, like iPhone ownership, as well as mobile Internet and iPhone OS penetration. Some industry sources provide useful reports that can help you to better gauge potential target markets.

After figuring out which markets can deliver optimal returns, the next step is to take a closer look at your app and, based on the scope of its functionality, choose the most suitable languages from your shortlist of high-potential target markets. At Green Volcano, they decided to localize their Flickit app into most of the languages that Flickr.com supports, such as Chinese, French, German, and Italian. This was a wise decision, as their target consumers are pretty much determined by the locations with the highest concentration of Flickr.com users.

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What do I need to prepare?

After determining your target language(s), the next step is to prepare the key components for localizing your app. In general, these “key components” include localizable strings (the files with existing text strings that need to be translated), Apple Store App descriptions, and other marketing materials, such as press releases, online content, and even targeted blog posts.

If your app interface or app description is chock-full of special terminology, then it’s also critical for you to develop a multilingual glossary, outlining the proper use, definition, and translation of the key terms used throughout your product literature. Without a strategic terminology management strategy in place, the resulting inconsistency within and between documents might have significant adverse effects on the usability of your app. Furthermore, given the relative simplicity of the GUI in most iPhone applications, any errors or terminological inconsistencies will be readily spotted by your users—an event that will severely devalue the integrity of your brand and product alike.

Who should translate my iPhone app?

Once all your preparatory work is in order, the next task is to find the right translators. Many developers actively discuss the option of helping each other translate individual apps—kind of like a linguistic time-share situation. This is a great idea if you have the time, energy, and available language talent. However, if you have a few dozen apps and a long list of target languages—all on top of severely tight release deadlines—then the sheer amount of project management alone is enough to drive you up the wall. Trust me on this one. You’re far better off concentrating on your core competency—which is application development—and leaving any translation work to the professionals.

While “professional localization services” might sound expensive, you’ll find that the right language service provider (LSP), in addition to helping you handle all project management duties from a centralized location, can provide a suite of other value-added services.

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For example, most applications require constant updates to keep up with changes in technology and user requirements. When you go to update your app in other languages, instead of re-translating all of your relevant strings, a professional language service provider will use translation memory (or CAT tools) to automatically detect where new text has been introduced and which strings need to be localized. In this way, you can effectively leverage previous translations and focus only on translating new content, both saving you money and speeding up your time-to-market. Translation memory is also a great way to ensure linguistic consistency across translators and projects.

In addition to helping you extract and translate any relevant text in your source strings and graphics, a professional localization vendor can also provide culture-specific insight so that your apps will read and appear both linguistically and culturally correct. Beyond that, an LSP can also help you with internationalization—basically, how to optimize your apps (during development) for future localization.

Where all the money’s at

Back in July of 2008, John Yunker wrote an entry in Global by Design about the great opportunities in localizing iPhone applications. As it turns out, his prediction was quite true. By way of example, Ortwin Gentz of FutureTap posted in January of this year that their international strategy, fueled by app localization, “contributed to a noticeable increase in non-US sales: Before the acquisition the US accounted for 90% of the sales, in December ’09 the non-US share increased to almost 50%.”

So should you localize your apps?—I’d say so.

But what languages should you localize into, and whom should you work with?

I hope my cracked iPhone glass hasn’t blurred your vision. By choosing the right languages and working with the right localization vendor, you can easily harness a greater share of the already promising global apps market.

Jasmine Liu has been in Boston for four years. She temporary makes her way down to the Bay Area, and will forever be a spicy Hunan girl. Aside from her daily business development work at CSOFT, Jasmine bakes “Michelin Star”-quality crème brulée, writes a personal blog now and then, enjoys photo shoots around New England, and has a relentless desire to learn everything about sustainability and branding.

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CSOFT International is a translation, localization, and globalization services provider that helps international businesses reach out to customers around the world.