Touchscreen devices in the localization industry

If not television or the computer screen, these days my kids are always glued to some other screen — iPods, iPads and smartphones. Not only for the games; they are also browsing photos, videos and Facebook pages.

I decided to curb the kids’ overuse of these devices. So I did a little trick. Since I know Japanese and the kids don’t, I changed the user interface (UI) language to Japanese so the kids would stop using the devices.

But, to my surprise, I failed. The kids were still using the devices, and the overuse didn’t stop, because they didn’t need any language help. They can easily get what they want on these devices by sliding and flicking through icons and images. It was not the UI language, but icons and images that were navigating them through using the device. My five-year-old son cannot read the UI text and screen messages, but based only on the icons and images, he can interpret what’s on the screen and just like a pro user, he can do things such as change the wallpaper to a picture of his choice, view animation clips, check scores and levels for his favorite Angry Bird game, and a lot more.

I had a similar experience with my parents too. They are from an older generation and do not know English. Hence, they were not comfortable using desktop computers. However, with tablets, they are very comfortable, and one of the reasons for this was that icons and images broke the language barrier. Additionally, the device supports regional Indian languages such as Hindi and Marathi. So for them, along with icons and images, the UI language being set to Marathi helped them quickly learn how to use the device and now they are making the most of it. I can show them photos and video clips of our recent family events. Using localized UI screens, my parents can interact through social media and can video chat to our distant family members. My mother is happy because she can listen to her Sanskrit shlokas (shlokas are religious verses) and do her daily recitation with the help of audio clips on the tablet as compared to doing the same on CD and audio cassette player, which she finds difficult.

As the UI on tablet devices is based on more icons and images and less on menus and text, users from any age group can use them with almost no training at all. You just need to play with the device for a little while, and then in a short time you will become an expert user. The ease of use and the low learning curve are contributing to the popularity of tablets.

Most tablets and smartphones now use what is called capacitive sensing, which registers anything that conducts electricity. Because the human body is an electrical conductor, touching the surface of the screen with your skin results in a distortion of the screen’s electrostatic field. However, having it jostle around in your pocket won’t affect it in the same way, which may give these devices an advantage over some older types of touchscreen technology.

After the internet revolution, the touchscreen revolution is the next biggest thing impacting our life. Smartphones or touchscreen mobile phones have been around for more than a decade now. However, the tablet PCs (popularly referred to as tablets) are forecasted to fuel the next big trend of touchscreen devices, appliances and applications. Apple has a big share in this new trend as its famous and top-selling iPods and iPads have contributed to the increase in popularity of touchscreen technology. Other players in the market, such as Samsung, Sony, Motorola and other regional companies, have also entered this new market using Google’s Android OS on their devices. Microsoft, with its new OS Windows 8, is all set to make the competition more fierce. For consumers, this is the most favorable situation, as competition will bring more variety of tablets, features and options in the market, and more importantly, it will help bring down the prices of tablets, eventually making them affordable in developing countries as well. All of this indicates that in the coming decade we will see increasing devices and appliances with touchscreens in our lives.

Content fueling demand

In the enterprise segment, there will be more demand for apps that will help in monitoring servers and scheduled tasks, giving information through dashboards — such as project status, graphs and charts, risk indicators — delivering presentations and so on. The users in this enterprise segment will range from directors and vice presidents to IT administrators and training departments. In the medical field, doctors will (and some currently do) find it convenient to carry touch devices on their visits and inspection rounds for daily medical analysis of patients. In the world of education, teachers will find it easy to have touch-based blackboards rather than using chalk on blackboards or markers on a whiteboard. Students will also get study materials in e-book format for reading on their touch devices. Many school and college projects will be done and presented via touch devices, either by writing longhand or typing, making traditional notebooks obsolete. Further, trade and industry events such as conferences and seminars will use touch devices for broadcasting marketing messages, promotional videos and giving customer presentations in more interactive ways.

On the one hand, it seems a little frightening; if touch devices become too popular, we may soon forget how to write languages. Although, at least until battery life and perhaps the device’s durability are beefed up to account for the challenges of reality, there will probably always be a place for paper records. But in almost all industries and segments, touch devices will be used in many ways. This will lead to increased demand for apps and more content, and naturally, this all means increased localization. Content shared through various sources such as e-books, newspapers, magazines, social media sites (such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), movies and games will need to be localized. As a result, this will generate more projects for our industry. Globalization expertise will be in greater demand for designing culturally acceptable, user-friendly icons and images for touch devices. In addition to more demand, quick turnaround for localization of apps will be the top requirement because companies will want to launch their apps faster and more frequently in the market. Our tools and effective use of optimized processes will play an important role in achieving this need of quick turnaround time and increased frequency of releases.


Interactions through gestures, icons and images

Touch devices are meant for more browsing and less typing. On these devices, the UI uses icons and images instead of text. Also, the user interaction is based on various gestures such as pinch, flick, swipe, tap and so on (Figure 1). From a globalization perspective, our challenge will be to come up with gestures, icons and images that are globally understandable, user-friendly and more importantly, culturally acceptable. From a regional and cultural perspective, some level of customization might be required for some countries. Failing to consider this globalization aspect may impact the sale as well as the adoption of touch devices in some local markets.

Another area of change is terminology. The computer terminologies that we have used so far will change from current terminologies such as double-click, select, right click, drag and drop to terminologies used for touch devices, such as tap, slide, swipe, flick, pinch and so on. This is simply because the way the user is interacting with the touchscreen application is different. Below are some examples of some new terminologies:

Tap an icon instead of saying select.

Double-tap instead of saying double-click.

Flick or swipe instead of saying scrolling.

Pinch for use of zoom feature.

Further, there is no physical keyboard and mouse as such (although one can connect them using Bluetooth connectivity) and there is a stylus for interaction if you do not want to use your fingers. The user will perform most of the actions by touch and gestures, and less by typing. In case of bidirectional languages, while doing internationalization and localization, the direction-based gestures and instructions may be different.


Standardization and customization

For any new technology or pioneering in the industry, standardization soon becomes a necessity. This is because it helps in the spread of the new technology, helps in its mass production as well as adoption and manufacturers supplying device accessories. Standards also help out the localization and globalization industry. In touch technology and touch devices, standardization will also become necessary. A global standard for touch devices will be required for areas such as device and screen size, input and output ports, usability and accessibility, device security and network standards. Standardization will play a key role when tough competition and market saturation put pressure on manufacturers to come out with touch devices of various sizes and features. Currently, touchscreens come in various sizes such as 3.5 inch, 7 inch, 10.1 inch and so on. Screen size is an important factor in choosing touch devices.

Some countries have their own government requirements and laws for adopting any new technology in the public sector and government offices. In the United States, there are federal requirements, such as Section 508 Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, United States Government Configuration Baseline, Common Criteria, Federal Information Processing Standards Publications and Internet Protocol Version 6. Many other countries will have similar requirements. These standards and requirements will have to be considered not only by device manufactures and apps developers, but also by the localization industry. Apps will also need to provide alternate interaction methods such as speech or voice recognition based interactions for users who cannot operate using fingers. The research might be in progress for visually impaired users for providing alternate interaction methods, perhaps using Braille. One possibility could be that when a blind user interacts with touch devices, a Braille area of text or UI item will activate voice mode so that the user can interact with the device easily.

Operating systems used on touch devices range from Android, iOS (from Apple), bada OS (from Samsung) and Windows 8. Free Android OS from Google is giving tough competition to Apple’s iOS. If you work on internationalization and localization, it is important that you get sufficient related information about these devices and understand how these different operating systems work.

Along with device size and operating systems, disk space on these devices is another area that we should be aware of. Most currently available touch devices have disk space of 8 gigabytes to 64 gigabytes and some of them allow additional disk space via microSD of up to 32 gigabytes. Considering this, space will be a limiting factor and the overall size of apps should be small in terms of storage space. Apps would need to be designed in such a way that they are intuitive and will require a Help file of a small size. Most of the apps built for touch devices do not deliver any printed documentation. Instead, the documentation is generally delivered in electronic format installed on the device itself. Apps should be easy to install, more intuitive and easy to use, requiring less need for the user to refer to documentation and online Help. Team members working on localization should be aware of these factors as well.

There are also some hardware areas that will need some level of customization to cater to user needs in different regions. In developed countries such as North America, Europe and Japan, use of WiFi for connectivity is very common and widely available at competitive prices. Further, the latest cellular networks such as 3G, 4G and 4G LTE are available for faster internet connectivity. Hence, touch devices sold in these regions primarily support these networks. On the other hand, in some developing countries where WiFi connectivity has not yet spread to outlying areas, alternate connectivity methods (such as USB dongle-based internet connectivity) is used. Further, provision for additional storage space may not be a requirement in North America and Europe, but it is one of the strongest selling points in countries such as India. HDMI output, more USB ports and microSD slots are some additional features that are helping to boost device sales in these countries. Apps will also need to cater to such customizations. When you develop, internationalize and localize apps, you will need to consider these hardware customizations and ensure that your test plan covers all hardware customization scenarios.

Talking further about testing, if the actual device is not available, emulators can be used for testing localized apps. Such emulators have features for testing localized apps. You will need to test your localized apps in both screen orientations — in landscape as well as portrait modes. Further, in the case of form fields (such as in a contact form or user information page), for some languages you will need to change the form layout and have some additional form fields. Your internationalization and localization test cases should consider all such scenarios.

There is still a lot to learn about this new trend of touch technology and touch devices. Our tools will need to be enhanced to support newer platforms and file formats for effective touch device localization. It is important that we keep in sync with the latest technological developments in this new space, and gain the knowledge and skills for managing these projects successfully.