When Sharon joined her family's hotel business after completing her education, they already had at least one hotel in each of the major cities in European countries. She had her eyes set on expanding to APAC. Concentrated on spending at least a month in each of the department's so that she understood the business from a practical point of view. Going through the reports, Sharon realized that the registrations done through mobile app had huge fluctuations from City to city.
Going deeper she realized that mobile app registration is accounted for more than 80% of individual registrations in cities with large English-speaking population. In fact, the registration rates were proportional to the English-speaking population in any City. She set her IT team or target of localizing the app for all the cities where they are operated.
Within 6 months they were able to roll out the localized apps and there was a hundred 25% jump in registration through the app in non-English speaking cities. Realizing the importance of localized apps in customer acquisition, Sharon made it her first priority for expansion into the APAC region.
Businesses thrive on when they succeed in establishing appropriate communication with their customers. It becomes even more essential when expanding into new geographic locations because the credibility has to be re-established. Typically, businesses localize all their offerings to maximize reach.
As mobile applications are one of the important channels of communication, and sometimes double up as a product, providing them in the local language massively improves chances of success.
In this article we will look at how multilingual app support is a critical tool every business must have. We will also discuss how mobile operating systems and app development frameworks help developers in providing multilingual support in their mobile applications.
Localization versus internationalization
The process of adapting an application for a specific region or language by translating its assets like text and images, and adding locale-specific contents is called localization. Structuring an app's code and UI for localization is called inter-nationalization.
A country or region can have multiple languages. For instance, in Canada both English and French are equally popular. A smart business would launch its app in both the languages to increase the number of downloads. In fact, case studies and surveys have proved that multilingual apps perform much better than single language apps. People prefer to use the Internet in their own language. A Common Sense Advisory survey revealed that:
- 1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language.
- 4% of consumers are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.
Ideally, any app that needs to be localized must be Internationalized first. And this should happen in the design phase itself. Forward-looking businesses always internationalize their apps so that they are prepared to foray into other regions or languages when the need be.
Why providing multilingual app support is a good business strategy
Providing localized language support for an app convinces the users that you are not there just for business; you wish to be a part of the community. It becomes an important determinant when potential customers are deciding whether to choose your product or not. Some of the advantages of multilingual apps include:
- Facilitates entry to new markets
- Increases downloads and hence revenue
- Boosts app store ranking due to increased downloads
- Enables gathering more data on customer behavior, which can be translated into strategic insights
- Drives customer acquisition
- Increases customer loyalty
Some aspects of the app that need to be localized include:
- Text read by the user, including menus, button text, etc.
- Images including Alt text and captions
- Video with its captions
- Date and time format
- Culture-specific information
Challenges in developing inter-nationalized apps
Providing an app in the local language is not simply translating the app — options, menus, text messages, etc. It also includes modifying the language so as to take care of cultural preferences. For instance, a phrase that is acceptable in one culture or region may be found offensive in another. Or, the same holiday can fall on different dates in different parts of the world. The team responsible for localizing the existing app must be aware of cultural nuances and include them in their apps.
Some of the challenges while providing multilingual support in mobile apps include:
- The context of the message is very important
- Most of the languages use left to right (LTR) script but there are many languages that use right to left (RTL) script. A truly multilingual app must provide support for both types of scripts.
- Text direction, date and numbers formats may be different
- A different set of alphabets may be used in the local language
- Not all fonts can be localized
- The design should be flexible enough to accommodate longer text on translation
How to be prepared to launch multilingual apps
- The first step is always designing the app in a way that it can easily be localized. This can be done by separating executable code from user visible text and images.
- Market research is essential for deciding the localized regions are locations where you would want the app to be available. App stores provide their own analytics that you can used to zero in on the lucrative markets.
- After selecting a few potential markets, you should study each market in detail text of amount of localization required.
- After finalizing the markets where you want to provide the app, get the app localized by the development teams.
- It is very important to test the localized apps before actually launching them.
- Although it seems simpler stick to point out that the app page must be localized before launch, this is a mistake made by many businesses. If not the whole website, at least the squeeze page must be localized for app information and downloads link.
- The same App Store analytics can be used to evaluate app performance and find them as you move forward.
Multilingual support on different mobile OS
Almost all mobile OS provide inter-nationalization and localization support. Let us see how the two most popular mobile OS – Android and iOS – do this.
Android support for different languages and cultures
Android provides full localization support for apps developed using the Android Development Kit. The culture specific files can be saved in the res/ directory, which is automatically created when a project is created.
Android OS provides full support for both LTR and RTL scripts. This means that the OS can detect script direction and adjust everything else accordingly.
Formatting text messages is an important task in localization. Usually they are formatted by inserting text and numeric data into the appropriate position. However, in case of RTL scripts, care has to be taken where these text and numeric data are inserted and how. Because even though the script is right to left, the numbers used may be LTR. Where a piece of text is starting and where it is ending will decide how the localized text is inserted.
Android provides the unicodeWrap() method in the BidiFormatter class, which automatically detects the direction of the string and ensures that the inserted text or number is displayed in the correct way.
Android also supports layout mirroring, which means that apps with RTL script will have right aligned menus, right-aligned text and forward arrows pointing to the left.
Multilingual support for iOS mobile apps
Tools like XCode 11 Apple API auto layout and Unicode support make it easy to structure iOS mobile apps for localization, without having a list of languages and regions in which they must be available.
- XCode Export For Localization automatically extracts all content that can be localized. This includes strings from codes as well as localization assets.
- Most of the Apple services like apple pay Apple wallet and sign in with apple are already localized. So, these can be used to provide localized buttons, payment sheets, errors, messages, etc.in the app.
- AVKit and AVFoundation frameworks can be used to provide localized audiovisual content in the app through subtitles and closed captions.
How app development frameworks facilitate localization
Mobile OS can be used only for native app development. Other app development frameworks that facilitate cross-platform development also enable development of i18n apps. i18n is the abbreviation for inter-nationalization.
Xamarin multilingual support
Xamarin is one of the most popular mobile app development platforms. Building mobile apps with Xamarin also makes it easy to handle multiple languages simultaneously:
- It is very simple to allow users to change language within the application without having to restart it. The Culture class provided by Xamarin enables the app to detect user’s locale and localize the app accordingly.
- Native platforms are not fully accessible to third party frameworks like Xamarin for developing mobile apps. However, Xamarin apps can localize date and time formats by localizing just the Picker, DatePicker and TimePicker
- Xamarin fully supports right-to-left localization.
How Angular facilitates app localization
Angular has built-in pipes to display dates, numbers, currencies, percentages, etc. in the local format. Plural forms of expressions can be tricky and they can be easily marked in Angular apps. Other text, including Alt Text, to be translated can be marked as well. Angular CLI can then be used to extract the marked text to a source language file, which can be shared for translation. The same CLI can then be used to merge the translated text back into the app.
Inter-nationalized Flutter apps
By default, Flutter only supports US English localizations. If you want support for other languages, the application must include a separate package called flutter_localizations. As of February 2020, this package supported 77 languages. But it is possible to add new language above and beyond these 77. You just need to provide approximately 70 localizations for words and phrases.
React Native Localization Efforts
There are multiple ways in which React Native apps can be localized. The easiest is using react-native-localize with i18n-js, a popular inter-nationalization library.
TechAhead’s expertise in developing multilingual apps
TechAhead has over 10 years of expertise in developing inter-nationalized apps. Our experts design all solutions with i18n standards in mind, so that clients do not need to worry about localization in future when they scale up operations to other geographic locations.
Adopting an application for a specific regional language by translating its Assets and adding local specific contents is called localization. These assets may be text images or audio-visual content. Structuring and apps code for and UI for localization is called inter-nationalization. There are many countries that themselves have multiple languages.
Businesses often localize their apps for these languages so that too to increase customer acquisition and engagement. This is important because 72.4% of consumers are more likely to buy a product that has information in their own language. Any app that has to be localized must be Inter-nationalized first. Having multilingual l apps facilitates entry to know your markets, increases downloads drives customer acquisition and improves customer loyalty.
The increased downloads also improve revenue and App Store ranking. localizing an app involves translating text, image Kama audio comic video comic etc.; date and time format; currency and culture specific information. Almost all mobile operating systems and app development frameworks provide inter-nationalization and localization support.
Both Android and iOS provide full support for both LTR (Left to Right) and RTL (Right to Left) scripts together with layout mirroring. Mobile app development apps like Xamarin, Angular, Flutter and React Native also have full i18n support.