7 tips for app localisation

Localising your app allows you to easily take your product or service to a global market. All of the major app stores realise the benefits of app localisation and the opportunity it presents in additional revenue for both them and for you. Apple promotes this succinctly on the Developer website with “Build Apps for the World”.

build apps for the world

1 – App Store Meta Data

A good place to start is looking at the Meta Data that will be used for your app in the app store.  This will include the name of the app, a description, keywords and screenshots. This is your sales pitch or shop window to a potential customer to entice them to download your app.

app store

2 – Don’t use free online translation tools

So you have invested a lot of time researching your target audience and have crafted the perfect Meta Data for the app store that compels users to give your app a try. The biggest temptation at this stage is take your well-crafted Meta Data and translate it online for all of the different languages/regions you want to target.

By doing this however, you are going to lose the value that made your original content good in the first place, and it will show. The same care and attention needs to be given for all of the other languages/regions as well, taking into account the likes of cultural differences. If this isn’t high up on your consideration list, have a look here to see how badly wrong translation can go…

3 – Cultural differences

Going further than simply translating the text, you want to localise your content, taking into account cultural differences such as the colour palette used or screenshots selected for the app store.

Microsoft sums this up nicely in its localisation guidelines:

“Images that might be appropriate in your own culture may be offensive or misinterpreted in other cultures. Avoid use of religious symbols, animals, or color combinations that are associated with national flags or political movements.” – Microsoft Localisation Guidelines

4 – Separate content and code

Think about how your app is structured early on and separate the content from the code as much as possible.

Don’t hardcode text strings directly into the app for example. Not only will this make it easier to maintain, but also easier to translate, as all of the translated strings will be stored in a separate file.

Another example of this is the use of text in an image. If you include the text as part of an image, not only will the text need to be translated, but you will need to update the graphic for each translation. When taking into account the number of images and languages/regions you are going to support, you can see how this will quickly turn into a maintenance headache.

5 – Images and right-to-left text

Following on from the point above, text in some languages (like Hebrew or Arabic) are read from right-to-left (RTL) instead of left-to-right (LTR). Consider how this text will look when overlaid on your image; would the text still be legible?

One option to support right-to-left text is to use symmetrical images that can be mirrored (flipped) in the code of your app. Not only will this support RTL text, but you will help to keep the size of the app down, and make it easier to maintain since you are only using the one image.

The examples below should help illustrate how this works in practice. 

Original LTR text

In the example below, the image and text are separate, with the text being overlaid onto the image.

LTR text

Mirrored image

It is important to note however that the image does need to be symmetrical. You can see that once the image is flipped, the apple logo is no longer displayed correctly and the shadow effect now has a different light source.

mirrored image

Symmetrical and mirrored image

To make the image symmetrical, keep it simple by removing the Apple logo altogether. The shadow effect isn’t too much of a concern, since it has no other light sources that would conflict with the design.

symmetrical mirrored

5 – App layout

Avoid using fixed width and height for layouts as this can lead to your text being cropped in certain languages. Where possible, adopt a fluid layout to accommodate varying string lengths in different languages.

While it is possible to create different template files in your app to support different languages, this would add a lot of time to the development and maintenance of the app. Instead, use a fluid layout wherever possible and create a custom layout template only for the languages that are proving the most difficult to support.

6 – Use APIs

Leverage the power of APIs to do the hard work for you when localising dates, times, currency.

This removes some of the barriers you may think of when planning to localise you app. Be sure to check what functions are supported before investing your time and effort into effectively reinventing the wheel.

7 – Refer to the developer guidelines

Apple, Google and Microsoft offer a wealth of information on globalising and localising your app. Even if you only plan to localise your app in one of the app stores for now, it is definitely worthwhile reading the developer guidelines for all 3, as they make some very good points and you may wish to target them in the future.

Localization Guidelines

iTunes Connect Developer Guide

Globalization and localization do’s and don’ts

Hopefully you will have found some of these tips useful and can see how they work in practice. You can take these into consideration when planning your next app or even going back through an existing app to prepare it for localisation.

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