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Mobile Application Software Localization: Top 10 Tips

Take your application local and drive your business into new markets.

Localizing mobile applications can be a daunting task. But, with a little preparation and the right team, you can ease the process enormously, saving time and money. Here are our top-10 tips to avoiding the common pitfalls of taking your mobile application, whatever the platform, to new language markets.

A note about software localization jargon: don’t panic! There’s no getting around it: software localization acronyms and terms can make anyone’s head spin. We reduced the jargon as much as possible, but if you have any questions or need further clarification on these tips, feel free to contact us.

  1. Research the international mobile market and determine your multilingual mobile application strategy before you begin. The mobile landscape varies widely in each country, resulting in thousands of variables in regards to mobile platforms, platform versions and local carriers. Each configuration may require a different approach when it comes to international deployment. Determine which platforms (i.e. iPhone, Blackberry, Java, Android, etc.) versions and carriers will be prioritized over others and set up a timeline accordingly.
  2. Verify localization readiness with a “pseudo-localization.” This simulated-translation and testing effort is a relatively quick and cost-effective dry-run of your mobile application localization process. This step will eliminate issues that would have otherwise emerged during later phases of the project. Learn more by reading our Top 10 Software Testing Tips.
  3. Know your real estate limitations. Mobile devices obviously have smaller screens than laptops or monitors. Learn what your string length limitations are upfront so that you don’t have layout breakage. These limitations are dictated by the device itself. If you can’t find out what these are, just tell your translation provider to maintain a length equivalent to your English strings and abbreviate whenever possible, noting that many languages such as German and French will expand your original text and make your strings longer.
  4. Understand translation tools. A little background on how translation tools work will help you maximize the benefit of this technology. Translation memory refers to software used by professional translators that stores all translations into a database in real-time as they work. This builds a bank of translation assets (phrases, sentences, paragraphs) that can be reused when the same English is repeated elsewhere in the project, or in updates. This greatly diminishes the time and cost of translation. Controlling changes to the English source language text and batching updates will help you to leverage these tools to minimize translation costs.
  5. Invest in a style guide and glossary. Defining conventions, style and terminology upfront will help you assert control over the translation process and maintain consistent language not only for your mobile application itself, but also for its related web-based applications and services. This strong language foundation will improve the quality of all your translations, minimizing inconsistencies and time-intensive changes late in the process.
  6. Teamwork and communication. Appoint a central contact for all mobile app localization project issues, as well as specialists per function (Engineering, Testing, Documentation…) who can interface directly with their localization provider peers. Plan to have a kickoff meeting to introduce the team members, clarify requirements and review the process. Weekly status meetings throughout the life of the project can be critical to maintaining momentum and resolving issues before they can impact the overall project.
  7. Use best practices for images and icons. Due to the small screen size, try to use icons that are universally understood. Research each icon you select beforehand and don’t assume that an icon/symbol (i.e. a stop sign) has the same meaning in other markets. Be sensitive to colorful icons that could be associated with cultural, religious, and political meanings in each of your target markets.
  8. Test. Test. Test. Testing your localized application is essential. Emulators are a big help, but are often not universally available for every version of every platform for every language/locale as well as being functionally limited. Also, if network communication to/from the handset is required to test your application (i.e. exchange of data such as a top score in a game), it’s still a good idea to test with the physical device on each country’s respective mobile networks.
  9. Get ready to review. It is critical to set up the review at the start of a project, rather than when the project is ready for the field. Provide the reviewers with the schedule, review goals, background materials (style guide and glossaries), feedback guidelines, and a method to communicate with the linguists. Following this tip will ensure a quick and successful review.
  10. A note about iPad app localization. If you are adapting an iPhone app to work on iPad, adjust your localization accordingly, knowing that you have more real estate to work with. Longer translations are possible and abbreviations can likely be written out in full. Keeping a glossary with two options for commonly translated terms, a full version (for iPad) and an abbreviated one (for iPhone), is a good way to keep things straight.

A successfully localized mobile application software product can help drive your business into new language markets. Working with a mobile app localization partner who can navigate both cultural and technological challenges will not only take your project across borders but also help it succeed across cultures. Learn more about Acclaro and our mobile application translation services.

Visit Our Work to learn more our mobile app localization projects, as well as our other software translation services. Then contact us, or request a quote to get started.

The future is mobile. We get it.

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