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Is Your App Ready for Multilingual Users?

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Don’t Forget About Internationalization and Localization

Nowadays, technology and business go hand in hand. Technological advancements have literally changed the way we conduct our business affairs and have facilitated our ability to compete on the global stage, opening up business opportunities around the world. From tech startup companies, gaming, and eCommerce sites, to the digitalization of the healthcare industry, technology is virtually omni-present — and mobile apps have taken the world by storm. The fast-paced mobile app industry continues to grow at lightning speed. According to Statista, the 2019 global revenue for the mobile app industry stands at USD 462 billion and is expected to climb to USD 582 billion by 2020.1 By the second quarter of 2019 there were 4.42 million mobile apps available on Google Play and Apple combined.

The Wide-Open Sea of App Diversity

Companies far and wide are tirelessly developing innovative ways to streamline their workflow and app developers play a central role. For companies conducting domestic or international business, there are now apps to keep you apprised of the latest market trends. There are apps for file sharing, video calls, and instant messaging. Planning to ship products overseas? No problem. There are also international shipping tools available that provide estimated shipping costs and keep you informed with regard to international laws and regulations. But companies are also developing apps to better reach their target market. Whether you are shopping, traveling for pleasure or for business, looking for the latest digital game, or searching for your favorite music, chances are there’s an app for you – and a growing number of apps are going global. No matter your current needs or wishes, there is likely an app that already exists, is in the development phase, or is being challenged by fierce competition to satisfy a growing consumer market. And while all of these advancements aim to make our lives easier, many developers forget about the two-step process that is an integral part of any app’s development, especially if the app is intended to reach a growing multilingual (and multicultural) market – internationalization and localization.


One size certainly doesn’t fit all and this is most definitely true when it comes to preparing your app for global consumption. If your app is intended to be marketed internationally, you’ll want to ensure that it is adapted to the languages, regions, and cultures of your target market. Even if some of your target locations primarily speak the same language, their regional or cultural conventions likely differ. Dates, times, numbers, and alphabets are just a few of the conventions that developers must consider when designing apps for various global regions. As an example, the English language alone is the official language of some 35 countries found in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania. Surely, with this kind of geographic diversity comes a considerable number of conventional variations as well. Simply ensuring that your app is prepped for the English language will not be enough if you want to market it successfully. And that is where the first stage of the localization process — internationalization — comes in. App internationalization (also commonly referred to as I18n) will help modify and customize your app’s code so that it can be more easily used by your translation team. If done correctly, it should allow for any future additions of new locales, but bear in mind, you might still have to make adjustments to accommodate for additional locales later on.

Flexible user interface

Simply put, a “string” is a sequence of characters in a single line. Strings refer to lines of text that can be anything from button titles or labels for instance, to more complex text such as your app’s instructions. Sometimes, however, the “space” that programmers leave for this text does not account for languages that require more characters. It is important, therefore, to ensure that you have a flexible user interface that will support any length of translated strings. In addition to ensuring appropriate length, you must also consider the different placeholders (variables) that are necessary to accommodate a variety of languages. For example, some languages write from left to right, while others write from right to left. There are gendered languages to consider in which the spelling of words will change depending on the gendered word. In other cases, the way in which singular and plural forms are used can be quite different, as can date, time, and currency formats. It is important, therefore, to ensure your strings can be adjusted to account for several variables. Engineering  your software code according to your audience’s needs and designing your app so that it is respectful of, and responsive to, a variety of languages, regions, and cultures will help you maximize your potential revenue. Start thinking about internationalization from the very beginning of the development stage. If internationalization is an afterthought, the second phase – localization – will be a painful and lengthy process. However, if you include internationalization at the onset, the localization process will be a much more pleasant experience.


Once your app has undergone a thorough internationalization process, it should be able to handle a variety of languages, regional differences, and technical requirements around the globe. However, it now needs to undergo the localization process to successfully reach your target audience. But where do you begin? In which languages should your app be localized and for which locales? Should the app be designed for portrait or landscape orientation use? While these questions are all valid, the answers depend on your own market research.

Market Research

Before you decide on specific target markets, ponder the following questions:
  • Which regions and countries are you looking to target?
  • Where do you feel your app will most likely succeed?
  • What are the characteristics of your competitive market?
Market research is more than simply keeping up to date with the latest market trends. It’s about looking for your competitive edge. Market research helps you better understand your current and potential customers, detect new business opportunities, and identify possible challenges. So, take the time to investigate the market where your app is most likely to succeed, and when you have a clearer focus based on relevant and reliable data, you’ll be ready for localization.


Depending on the platform for which you are designing your app, your design will likely default to either portrait or landscape orientation. But did you take into consideration your target audience’s preference? According to ScientiaMobile, (a mobile device intelligence company), “[m]ost smartphones are used in portrait orientation, with the most popular size (6 to 6.5″) showing 91% portrait usage.”2  However, as ScientiaMobile points out that while users with 8 to 9 diagonal inch screens prefer “portrait orientation 57.5 percent of the time”, 93.9% of users with 11 diagonal inch screens watch videos in landscape orientation.3

Text Customization

Although many think of localization as the process of translating content from one language into another, it’s a lot more involved than that. It requires a team of specialized translators who understand how to work with files that contain all of the strings in your application that need to be translated (such as XML or XLIFF files). In order to support the translation process, it is important for you to add as much context as possible to your strings so that the translation accurately reflects the intended message. Oftentimes, you must even go beyond merely customizing the text alone. In fact, all of your app’s content should be customized to fit a new locale. This might extend to modifications of your app’s images, video, audio, date format, numbers, currency, and more.

Visual Localization

Although images can be powerful in terms of capturing your audience’s attention, if you aren’t careful during the localization phase, the attention your app captures might not be in your best interest. Certain visuals that are acceptable in one country, for instance, might be offensive in another. Working with a localization partner well-versed in image localization will help you avoid these pitfalls which can damage your company’s reputation. To minimize the chances of cultural miscommunication and maximize the effectiveness of your app’s visual appeal, it is best to avoid certain images, including religious symbols, country flags (or any imagery of a political nature), hand gestures, and body parts. Instead, choose globally-recognized (and acceptable) symbols and imagery.

Video (and Audio) Localization

The power of video in advertising cannot be understated. Recent research estimates that 87% of businesses now use video as a marketing tool, up from 63% in 2017. And when it comes to consumers, over two-thirds of those surveyed (68%) showed a preference for short videos over articles, infographics, presentations, pitches, or even ebooks and manuals.4 In the fall of 2018, eMarketer published results of a study comparing three online social media platforms to determine what percentage of their total revenue share derived from video. The market research company predicted that by the end of that year, US digital video advertising would make up one-quarter of US digital ad spending. But the real internet video powerhouse is Youtube5 which has now been launched in over 100 countries. More than 70% of Youtube watchtime takes place via mobile. And as powerful a marketing tool as video is, it can be equally as lethal to a company’s reputation if professional video localization is left out of the equation. Video localization involves careful consideration of the video’s length, its spoken content, and its script. Ideally, videos should be kept at 2 minutes or less in order to retain audience attention. Beyond length though, you must consider whether to use subtitling or voice dubbing for the spoken content localization. If voice dubbing is your preference, it is important to find the most culturally-relevant voice talent for your target audience. A faster and more economical option is subtitling (but you must ensure that enough space has been left on the screen to account for the text). And then there’s the matter of the overall message being delivered. Is the script complex? Does it refer only to locally-relevant content or humor? Whether your app itself contains a video component or you are preparing a marketing video to promote your latest app, don’t forget about video and audio localization.

Localizing Cultural Conventions

You are probably familiar with the old adage, don’t assume anything. And in the world of localization, making assumptions will in all likelihood, lead to complications. Consider for instance, the different formats used around the world when it comes to date, time, currency, and numbers. In the United States, it is common to write the date by month, date, year, as in, mm/dd/yyyy. However, in other parts of the world, this can be completely different. Some countries commonly use dd/mm/yyyy, or even yyyy-mm-dd. Formatting time must also be considered. Some countries use a 12-hour clock while others prefer a 24-hour format. Knowing which currency your target market uses will also help ensure your app is properly localized. Does your target market rely on the dollar ($), the Euro (€), or the British pound (£)? Keep in mind that the overall purpose of localization is to design your app so that your audience feels it was designed with them in mind and not simply adapted for them as an afterthought. This involves a lot of upfront work, but the payoff is developing a relationship with your audience that puts them at the forefront.

Localizing for your domestic market

Even if you are preparing to launch your new app domestically within the United States, you’ll still want to invest in professional localization services in order to reach the growing linguistically and culturally-diverse US market. However, apps that are intended for the international market (or at least for online consumption) stand to gain a lot of traction, especially if they have been properly localized into different languages. According to Internet World Stats, the English language currently makes up only one-quarter of the languages used by world internet users. By sticking to English-only versions of your app, you could be leaving behind a whole lot of opportunity.

Test, Test, Test

Arguably the most important step of all is testing your app’s performance. Is your app behaving according to the target market’s linguistic and cultural requirements? Are the local conventions in place and operating properly? Testers should repeat a variety of functions to check for typographical and linguistic errors, and should ultimately be able to verify with some degree of certainty that your localized app is ready to launch. You’ve invested significant time and resources into your app’s development – make sure you prioritize performance.

Learning From App Localization Fails

It’s not always the little guys that make the mistakes – plenty of larger companies have also had to learn the hard way, the critical importance of localization. As far back as 1977, Apple released their personal computer, Apple II. It was a smashing success in the United States and propelled Apple forward as a leader in developers of home computers. In its debut year, it brought in USD 770,000. By the following year, sales increased to USD 7.9 million, and by the following year, USD 49 million – not too shabby. But in 1978, when Apple decided to expand into parts of Europe and Japan, they made a critical mistake. Although Apple did localize the computer to a certain degree (hardware, software, and firmware modifications to meet compliance standards outside of the US), the company failed to modify the American keyboard for a number of European markets. As a result, umlauts, accents, and other punctuation marks (that are necessary for writing in many European languages) were left out. And even though that was over 40 years ago, many startups are still making similar (and costly) localization mistakes. In fact, according to the Startup Genome Report, “more than 90% of startups fail, due primarily to self-destruction rather than competition.”6 Tech market intelligence platform CB Insights breaks down the top 20 reasons why startups fail, 5 of which fall directly under localization:

App Localization Providers

If you are ready to begin adapting your app for multilingual and multicultural use, you’ll want to find the-best-in-class app localization providers to partner with you. Professionals in app localization go well beyond offering translation services. They not only ensure that your app is appropriately adapted to meet the linguistic and cultural needs of your target audience, but that it is also legally compliant with local regulations.

Subject Matter Experts

It is no longer enough for localization providers to simply know the target language — not only does each language contain its own unique ambiguities, but each industry contains its own unique terminology. For these reasons, some app localization providers offer in-country subject-matter experts (SMEs) who are intimately familiar with the linguistic, legal, and cultural aspects of your target market, as well as the industry-specific terminology.


Your app should ideally be tested to ensure its linguistic, cosmetic, and technical settings are functioning appropriately, and on all of today’s different platforms. Testers are considered an integral part of the overall localization process. They should not only possess superior language skills, but should also be able to demonstrate strong computer literacy.

Akorbi’s App Localization

Too many companies have made the costly mistake of developing their app with robust English-language software without considering other languages. They’re then left with having to either spend considerable time in patch-work or invest heavily (with both time and money) to fix the problem down the road. By tackling the localization phase upstream– in other words, by localizing your app in parallel with your development – you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, not to mention a lot of coin. Akorbi, a globally-recognized language and technology powerhouse with headquarters in the United States, has the experience, the resources, and the talent to partner as your app localization partner. We strengthen our clients’ development efforts from a multilingual and multicultural perspective. Akorbi utilizes industry-leading technology to support software localization and has the expertise to work with complex file formats. Our in-country subject-matter experts will test your software on all of the current platforms, including Mac, PC, iOS, Android, and more.

Internationalization Experts

At the internationalization phase, our team of professional engineers will evaluate your software files to let you know how “localization-ready” your software is. We’ll call out any bugs we find and identify any issues with technical components, providing you with a blueprint on what needs to be corrected prior to your app’s launch date. Akorbi’s team understands the valuable real estate of your app’s user interface (UI). Not only will we recommend that the content on the UI be adjusted for the languages known for expansion of text (compared to English), but we’ll also create detailed style guides that provide consistent treatment of abbreviations and customized local content specific per language.

Localization Experts

Once the internationalization phase has been completed and the necessary engineering fixes have been made, we’ll assist with the localization phase. Akorbi’s advanced technology supports all software-type file formats, allowing us to execute a quality-driven localization process. Before the localization phase is done, it will be thoroughly studied by our in-country reviewers, and new language files will be created and published in a test environment on the client side. Successful app localization is dependent on our personalized and thorough consultative approach and partnership with our clients. By investing in Akorbi’s localization services, you’ll benefit from our adherence to industry best practices, including cross-product consistency whether you require localization of your app, product, service, or website.

Functional and Linguistic Testing Experts

Now that the internationalization and localization phases are complete, Akorbi offers both functional and linguistic testing. We’ll check for bugs and breaks in the software that the translation has created. Our in-country linguists will test the app’s performance on various internet provider platforms and different operating systems. Our linguistic testing will provide a thorough in-context review of the translation to ensure it supports the proper context with accurate translation. Our tried-and-true workflow for software and app localization includes source analysis string commenting and app style guide creation per language.

Choose the best-in-class

The business world has moved to digital. If you want to ensure your software is localization-ready, it’s imperative that you give your clients (and potential clients) a best-in-class experience. Reach out to Akorbi – your best-in-class localization partners. __________________________________________________________ Created in partnership with GIM Writing Services.
  1. “Mobile App Revenues 2015-2020.” Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/269025/worldwide-mobile-app-revenue-forecast/.
  2. “Smartphone vs Tablet Orientation: Who's Using What?” ScientiaMobile, 8 May 2018, https://www.scientiamobile.com/smartphone-vs-tablet-orientation-whos-using-what/.
  3. ScientiaMobile, Inc. “New ScientiaMobile Report Shows Trends in Video Orientation, NFC Support, Connected and SmartTV Competition, IPhone Global Share, and Android OS.” GlobeNewswire News Room, "GlobeNewswire", 25 Feb. 2019, https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/02/25/1741432/0/en/New-ScientiaMobile-Report-Shows-Trends-in-Video-Orientation-NFC-Support-Connected-and-SmartTV-Competition-iPhone-Global-Share-and-Android-OS.html.
  4. “State of Video Marketing 2019 - Report.” State of Video Marketing 2019 - Report - via @Wyzowl, https://info.wyzowl.com/state-of-video-marketing-2019-report.
  5. “YouTube for Press.” YouTube, YouTube, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/yt/about/press/.
  6. Marmer, Max, et al. “Startup Genome Report Extra on Premature Scaling.” Startup Genome, Startup Genome, http://innovationfootprints.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/startup-genome-report-extra-on-premature-scaling.pdf.
"Other" resources used in this report:
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