How to Create a Global App – Tips on Design, Localization and Development

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app_translation.jpgLooking to create or build an app? If you want it to sell internationally you will need to localize your app. Design, development, language, translation and UX are all key elements to consider when you create an app. If you are not sure how to go about localization then below are some tips for you!

The Next Web recently published an article written by Iris Shoor, co-founder at Takipi and VisualTao. After successfully launching an application, she is now in a position to share her tips with us.

Shoor gives the example of her app Autocad WS: this application has more than 10 million users of which 8.5 do not speak English as their first language. The programme experienced a huge increase in its downloads after the proper localization – in less than six months, the number of downloads per day grew from 1500 to nearly 5000!

Shoor says translation played a big role in this growth, but isn’t the only factor.

Localization is even more important: ‘It’s not about the text on the button, but about the way users discover the app, decide whether to download it and most of all – how they experience it.’

Localization, Shoor says, is not the same as translation. It is however about using the same marketing and offering the same product experience to countries all across the globe. She lists a number of steps a company must take in order to successfully localise their products.

Localize the product in the App Store and Google Play

The product page in smartphone app markets is very important to app developers as it is the page which makes customers decide whether to download the app or not. App localization and translation shouldn’t be taken lightly, Shoor says. ‘Localizing a product page means rethinking every pixel, every term and every detail – the currency in the screenshot, the image of the user, the name of the sample user.’

Companies should adapt the description of their app to the country they are aiming for, but should remember to use screenshots in the target language as well. Elements in the screenshots to localize might involve:

•    User name
•    Units
•    Text labels
•    Maps and images

Local bloggers can Localize the message

When talking to other entrepreneurs, Shoor discovered that the blogs that drove consumers to their app vary greatly and usually weren’t written in English. This is actually very good news, as an app will sooner be reviewed on a non-English speaking blogs than on the immensely popular English ones.

To approach local bloggers, Shoor has two rules:

1.    The initial communication should take place in the blogger’s language. Shoor had her ‘pitch’ email translated in several languages and sends this to about three bloggers per country.  The real challenge only begins when they answer: as it would take too much time to have her response translated, she writes a reply in English and adds a Google Translate translation. Might sound a little tricky, but for Shoor, it does the trick in the absence of a translation service.

2.    Share information relevant to the blogger’s country. Local bloggers are usually interested in content that is applicable to their own country. As Shoor is aiming for a solid relationship with the local bloggers, she tries to include technological novelties that are relevant to them. Shoor also sends the bloggers information about how many times her app was downloaded in their country. She receives the best responses, however, when she adds a story of a user from the country she is aiming for.

Shoor agrees it is difficult to find out what blog about mobile applications is the most popular one in a country. She shares a little secret with us: she searches for leading apps and then filters the Google search results by language. ‘together with ‘translate this site’ I was able to find the email addresses of the relevant bloggers.’

Use Video Localization

Shoor states that she used to overlook video localization: after all, is seems like a fairly international element. However, ‘After a short while I realized that for a potential Chinese user, watching a video in English is exactly the same as watching a video in Chinese for me – I would probably close it after hearing the first sentence in Chinese.’ Now, some videos are equipped with voiceovers. This can be done quite cheap with online translation services. For a number of languages, subtitles were added, which yielded great results as well.

Finding out what languages your users speak can be challenging, but according to Shoor, it is not impossible. She says the easiest method consists of using the language key given by the mobile device of the user as this indicates the OS language the user employs. However, the language key from some devices cannot be read and there are also users that use a web version.

This is why Shoor then divided their user base by looking at email addresses. ‘First, we took about 50 web services which represent different countries and sorted our data base according to that list… We also searched by the country URL.’ Shoor was a little wary of this method, but the number of users complaining is very low.

These three tips are great if you know what language or culture you want to localize your content for, but what if you have no clue about which languages you should choose?

Shoor says the politically correct answer would be that it depends on the app.

However, ‘From my own personal and dozens of other companies’ experience my first pick would be Spanish and Italian. These markets are early adopters and there are plenty of blogs in these languages you can reach out to.’

If you have localized your app to Spanish, she adds, don’t forget about the bloggers in Central and South America as they are able to refer huge amounts of people to your app. Next to these to European Languages, Shoor thinks Chinese, Japanese and Korean are good choices as well as these have very big markets.

Many companies wonder how good the quality of their app translation must be. Shoor has used both online services and high-end translation agencies and even though she agrees the first one does not always deliver the highest quality, she does recommend them to start-ups and individuals as they are considerably cheaper: ‘I would make sure that SEO related words are translated correctly and would highlight the meaning to the translator.’

Of course, localization enables entrepreneurs to reach more users all across the world without investing in that much effort. But according to Shoor, ‘there’s also a romantic side to it. I believe that the dream of every entrepreneur or product developer is to have people from all over the world use their product and to improve the life of everyone – no matter where they live or how much money they earn. Some of the most exciting moments I experienced in my startup were interactions with users I never imagined I would be able to reach. Hearing about how my app is used to build a school in Honduras, preserve a historical site in Xian or redesign a village in Russia meant the world to me’

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