Localizing mobile apps with over-the-air updates

The digital version of our issue on mobile apps just hit the internet, so if you’re a subscriber, check it out. Meanwhile, here’s a bonus you can enjoy either way.

When entering new markets, every mobile app developer wants to deliver the best experience to its users. Being able to use the app in your native language — no matter how small the language — is one of the obvious ways to do this.

While every company behind a mobile app has their unique product, they have to face the same challenges while setting up localization process:

  • Setting up workflow. The main decision is if localization management should be outsourced or kept in-house. You have to consider how many languages you have, how often the app is being updated and the overall impact of this process on your product. This is a challenging task, as all the key teams — development, product, design, content and localization — have to be in sync.
  • Finding reliable translation providers. The company may choose to outsource localization management. It is very important not to underrate your in-house localization manager role and chose someone who fully understands and has experience with this process. Its nice to offer local languages, but it won’t mean anything if they are not correct (if anything, it can damage to your brand).
  • Choosing a technical solution, which includes preparing files and other details.

While there are many interesting aspects to be discussed here, let’s focus on the third one. You may need a comprehensive technical solution even if you don’t know it yet. I’ve seen apps being translated using XLS sheets, bringing chaos and headache to the companies. And I’m not exaggerating a lot, trust me.

There are companies that choose to create a tool themselves, but it can be an expensive and time-consuming process. However, if you have deep knowledge and enough resources, it might bring about great results and may even become a new business product itself.

You could also choose an existing solution, in which case you will need to spend some time on research. If you are a localization professional, you understand the basic technical solution needs for high-quality translations:

  • Easy file integration. If you are on the technical side, you might understand very well what formats solution needs to support. If you are like me, sit down with developers and go through all the present and future needs of the app.
  • Integrated searchable translation memory and term base. No comments here — since the day I was absolutely awed opened my first Trados translation memory in 2002, we have gone a long way and it is one of the most natural things ever.
  • Clearly assignable context. You need to be able to add screenshots, tag strings, explain specific language or flowery expressions and so on.

This is what you know you can get, you just need to sort out who has the best prices, functionality, support and so on.

For mobile app translation, you may wish for some extra mobile specific features. For example, what about over-the-air text updates without re-submitting the app to the appstore, capturing the screenshots automatically for extra translation context, or, possibly, WYSIWYG synchronization between your desktop translation editor and the mobile app you are translating?

Is it too much to wish for? Not really. A SDK (software development kit) for OTA (over-the air) updates is real, and already available from several services on the market.

After integrating the SDK with a mobile app, your development team does not need to build a new version in order to update the UI texts. Once an end user has an internet connection on their mobile device, the text in the app is automatically updated, voilà! Consequently, you do not wait two days for approval in the app store, and users are not harassed with new versions. Updated and translated texts are instantly delivered. There are at least three services providing OTA SDK:


This language translation and content localization solution is up to date. OTA SDK for iOS and Android provides updated translations, and newly localized content is instantly delivered, which means multilingual content and translation edits can be released on a separate schedule, completely decoupled from updates to the app’s core code. 


End-to-end localization solution, which at the moment offers the OTA SDK for iOS. Its screen capturing widget is available both for iOS and Android for your developers to play with. Other than that, there is a long list of supported integration options and file formats.


Besides a popular iOS and Android OTA SDK, Lokalise offers a mobile edit module that provides a real-time display of your mobile app in your desktop translation editor. You get a better translation context, as well as see the immediate result of your work the way end users will see it.

Katrina Aboltina
Katrina Aboltina has worked in localization for 12 years. She has been a multilingual LSP project manager, freelance translator, editor, copywriter and a content and localization manager at social network Ask.fm. There she set up a localization procedure for web and app in 49 languages. She went on to work as a content and localization manager for Balaclava Lab and Mint, Ltd.


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