Tag: mobile apps

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How to integrate cultural distance into your app development

Localization Basics, Technology

It is only natural for a company to focus on its home country when they start developing an app. It’s the market you are most familiar with, and it is where most of your current resources are deployed. However, if you want to continue to grow, and expand the relevance of your app, there may come a time when you need to consider moving into different regions and countries.

More than 5 billion people use mobile services and more than half of those devices are smartphones. When you consider the fact that only a fraction of the world’s smartphone users live in the US, you can see that there is massive potential for growth when you decide to start pushing your app into new markets.

If you are planning to market your app internationally, you have to consider the differences between the people in different markets. Beyond differences in language, people in different places have different cultural values and they respond to messages and imagery in different ways. This is what is known as “cultural distance” and it should be one of your top considerations when developing an app for different regions.


Internationalization is the process of creating an app in such a way that it can be adapted for users in different countries and regions. If you plan to market your app for an international audience, this should be a part of the development process. If you are working with an existing app that was not coded for internationalization, your development team will need to go through the app to separate the content portions of the app from the code that makes the app function.

Along with the internationalization of the app itself, you will need to globalize the efforts your company puts into supporting the application. You will need to look at how you want to position the app in different markets, your advertising efforts, the need for staff in different regions and the potential that there may be legal concerns that come with moving into new markets.


Under ideal conditions, localization will come after internationalization. This way, your app is adaptable for different countries and regions. You’ll be able to make it so things like text and other content can be switched out based on the international market of the user. Not only that, you will have laid the groundwork to move the app into these new markets.

Language is one of the more obvious concerns when it comes to app localization. While English is widely spoken throughout the world, it is not the native language of most people, and most app users prefer an experience that is in their native language.

While it may be tempting to use some type of machine translation, it is recommended that you hire human translators when you localize your app. Some of the machine services do work well, but they are also prone to mistakes. At best, these mistakes will be embarrassing; at worst, they could damage the reputation of your company.

Beyond language, you also need to consider cultural context when localizing an app. This is where cultural distance will play a role in app development.

Accounting for culture

Culture has a significant impact on how people view the world. Translating your app might put the words in the language of your target country, but that does not mean you are sending the same message or speaking to the audience in the most effective way.

Even when translated word for word, some content might have a very different meaning in different places. Obviously, a common turn of phrase in one country might seem like nonsense somewhere else. You also have situations where a translation retains its meaning, but the message might be received negatively in a different culture.

The same is also true for images. An image that evokes positive feelings in one culture might be negative in another. Furthermore, you might have images that work well in one culture, but they just don’t convey any kind of meaning in a new market.

When you are working to localize an app for a new market, you have to think beyond translation. How will the messaging carry over? Will the images have the right impact on the new audience? These cultural differences are important for businesses that want to operate in different countries.

Cultural distance examples

A good example of cultural distance is between those that are individualist as compared with those that are more collectivist. Individualist societies value being self-sufficient and favor the rights and needs of the individual over that of the broader society. In collectivist societies, the group takes priority over the individual and people are more reliant on each other. 

Another example of cultural distance is the acceptance of indulgence. In some societies, people feel freer to express and act on their desires. On the other hand, you have societies that are more restrained. In these societies, people are expected to have more control over their desires. 

These are just two examples of cultural distance, but there are many more that may need to be considered. As you assess a new market, consider the cultural differences and account for them by adapting your messaging and the imagery you use. You may even need to change the way your service functions to account for cultural differences in some places.

As a final tip, keep your eye on things like international downloads, engagement, app analytics, and user feedback. There is a chance your efforts at localization won’t be perfect for some regions. If you notice problems with the analytics, engagement, or user feedback, it can be the first sign that you got something wrong.


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Rae Steinbach is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined international relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to New York City to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food and writing.


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Wo Ist Mein Handy? Knowing the German Mobile User

Language in Business, Localization Culture, Personalization and Design

Apparently, whether you say cell phone or smart phone is a giveaway about your age in the US (heavens forbid what clipping the thing to your belt says about you). I’ve been spending a lot of time in Germany recently, so I decided to find out what Germans call their mobile phones. Without a doubt, seemingly regardless of age, they call it a handy.

The origin of the term handy is open to debate, though it has been around for a while. Is it Denglish, a loan word, or even Kiezdeutsch? Stephen Fry certainly likes to get a good laugh out of it!

Anyhoo, does it matter what these things are called? Not from from a device usage perspective, though when localizing any message about it you really do need to speak the language of the user, so yes on that score.

For mobile app development though, addressing such local user experience is vital. This goes beyond language. Researching the app’s context of use and taking into account the end users and other stakeholders and their environment is required.

For example, all very well that most German workers are now contactable out of hours on mobile, but there might be labor agreements to be respected about doing so. At Volkswagen‘s six German manufacturing plants, for example, contacting employees out of hours on their BlackBerry devices is no more.

Similarly, any mobile app in Germany that shows comparative employee data and performance cannot be rolled out in a company without agreements with the local works council, the Betriebsrat, and other data protection and privacy requirements may also apply.

In all, the message is clear for mobile apps developers and localizers: know your market!

You may have other insights into handy and the German usage of mobile devices and apps. If so, find the comments.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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Resources for Mobile App Developers' Translation Planning

Language in Business, Language in the News, Language Industry News and Events

I was reading a Techcrunch article called the Number of Mobile Devices Will Exceed World’s Population by 2012. All very interesting stuff that I would encourage you to read. However, I was little underwhelmed by the article’s title claim as I thought we were already there (there are more phones than people in Ireland, for example). As for only 8% of the population carrying more than one device in 2011, well …  (I have three iPhones, one iPad, one Kindle Fire,  one Google Nexus S, and one Blackberry curve alone).

Against this backdrop of global mobile expansion, I wondered about a good source of information about the global usage of mobile apps. I found out about one: App Annie.

Check out this superb App Annie infographic called The Rise of the Planet of the Apps, and the country-based charts on what apps (paid and free) are popular in app stores.

Just iOS now for the charts, but they tell me Android figures are coming. Can’t wait, as Android is sure to make an even bigger  impact globally, and especially in developing regions too.

App Annie: a great resource for planning your global mobile app strategy. Know those markets people!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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The Dublin Windows Phone Code Camp: A Localization Debrief

Language Industry News and Events, Personalization and Design, Translation Technology

I attended the Windows Phone (WP) code camp at Microsoft in Dublin, an event organized by the Microsoft Ireland Development and Platform Evangelism (DPE) team and Dublin ALT.NET. One of the great things about my interests profile is that I get to cover user experience (UX), developer relations, localization, and a bunch of other cool stuff, all at the same time. The WP camp was no exception. I guesstimated that between 70 and 80 people turned up.

First up, Josh Holmes of Microsoft gave a quick overview of how to use the WP development environment, pointing out key UX features of the WP7 Metro interface– panning and pivot interactions, for example–and how to integrate geolocation, web services (no, nothing on Microsoft Translator, sadly), and so on. Microsoft has done a great job with Metro and I cannot wait to play with it in the field.

Lumia 800 with Windows Phone 7 Metro UX. Picture taken in Vodafone store in Dublin, Ireland.

Lumia 800 with Windows Phone Metro UX. Picture taken in Vodafone store in Dublin, Ireland.

Then, it was the turn of Matthew M. Gonzales (@matthewgonzales) of Irish cloud-based, localization as a service, solution Tethras to talk about the localization of mobile apps and global market trends. Some points that sunk home for me from the localization discussion were:

  • There’s a relatively low breakeven dollar point for localization of apps, and developers need to sell less than three dozen to turn a profit.
  • Don’t forget to localize the app store or market place description for the app. In fact this appears to constitute the bulk of the cost (marketing people, huh?).
  • Apps developers really do have to know their market and strategize accordingly. For example, in Brazil and Korea whatever the potential and strength of the app market, most users will not pay for gaming apps. In Japan, localization is hypercritical; so don’t forget to localize pictures of people, icons, and so on. Oh, don’t forget the potential offered by Nordic markets, either.
  • All the major platforms of interest to mobile apps developers are internationalized and provide for localization. It’s the app’s resources that are localized, so there aren’t 30 versions of the app executable being distributed. Windows Phone is no exception, and furthermore there are some very useful style and terminology guidelines available from Microsoft for the more serious-minded developer.

Later, I chatted with some app developers about localization. Their main concern was not about cost but knowing local markets and whether their localized app would take off without being blessed by some international viral campaign. Perhaps, there’s an opportunity for some innovator to address that. An additional service of localizing targeted collateral for integration into a localized communications ecosystem of tweets, recommendations, shared links, and so on, maybe?

On a more general point, I love attending these events and talking with others and watching what’s going down. I believe that for language technology to make any real headway where it matters economically–with individual developers and with small and medium enterprises and innovation–then it needs to start making an appearance at events like WP code camps, amongst others.

Thank you Microsoft DPE and Dublin ALT.NET for making this happen. And, what a wonderful building Microsoft employees have as a workplace in Dublin. I was deeply jealous!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Localization Services Industry: Does It Scale Down?

Language in the News, Translation Technology

I visited Macworld 2011 in San Francisco. The event was dominated by mobile apps for iPhone and iPad and accessories (there was some stuff about music and television too). It was clear to me that the barriers to innovation in the mobile space are now very low, and apps can be developed easily by individuals rather than companies.

From a localization (translation) industry perspective what does this mean? Can traditional model LSPs scale down to one or two small jobs from individual developers? Do such developers even want to deal with LSPs? Talking with developers onsite at the event, their answer was “No”. Plus, large LSPs cannot plan around micro-development, predict demand and, given their overheads, will probably lose money on the job. Sure, they could roll up the little jobs into a supply chain, but what does that mean for the customer relationship with individual developers or localization quality? Probably not a great experience for developers.

That’s why it’s great to see cloud-based disintermediation localization options like Ireland’s Tethras (offices in Silicon Valley and Dublin) at places like Macworld. Tethras have already localized some very impressive apps for iPad and iPhone, and also some Mac apps themselves. Great disruptive solution, well positioned to match the mobile space’s innovation model.

Tethras have localized 3D4Medical’s apps into seven languages.

You can read more about disintermediation and disruption in the localization industry on Kirti Vashee’s blog.

Your thoughts about the matter? Find the comments.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Mobile Apps Localization, Irish Style, Apple Style

Language in the News, Language Industry News and Events

I always enjoy Lucy Kellaway’s articles in the Financial Times. She’s a smart writer, with a quick, sharp sense of irreverent humor combined with common sense,  making the coverage of the world of business eminently readable.  Her recent “Words to describe the glory of Apple” (podcast version for the registration-averse reader) addressed the issue of language in business, focusing on the style used by Apple in its App Store Review Guidelines (PDF version), aimed at developers of mobile applications.

These guidelines are insightful in themselves (as indeed are Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for the iPhone) for what they say about language quality. They place the emphasis on usability rather than professional linguistic quality, adherence to official terminology glossaries, style guidelines, and the rest. Language quality in its own right is not a  criterion for app acceptance. The market – the user – ultimately decides.  As far as I know, localized Apple apps are subject to an in-country review instead of a US one, but it doesn’t seem that professional linguistic acceptance checks for style and terminology come into play for those versions either.

This is important for the vast majority of mobile application developers, be they for Apple, Android or other platforms. Contrary to what you might hear, you simply do not need to engage with professional linguists and expensive, complicated, slow translation processes that center around complicated language quality assistance to get your localized app to market. What app developers do need is the means to quickly and easily connect with translators who are talented, motivated,  interested, mobile app savvy and who can use tools to turn around an effective translation that can get that app to the market place or app store as quickly as possible for international users.

Mobile app developers can look to the Irish technology company Tethras (offices in Dublin, Ireland and Silicon Valley) for such a service. This is a smart, cloud-based solution for global mobile app developers to get their development efforts to the international market easily. Sparkle Apps have already used Tethras for translating their Jigsaw Box iPad app and report that doing so clearly showed a spike in global sales, confirming other findings.

Remember that most app development isn’t a large-scale effort, undertaken by large teams in huge enterprises, but instead by interested, motivated entrepreneurs working remotely, often working alone. They have no clue about the difference between “localization”, “translation”, “transcreation” or the rest of the traditional GILT industry mechanics. And why should they? Who needs a language service provider to charge you for the creation of localized terms for “fart” anyway?

Watch out for more about Tethras and Irish mobile apps localization in a forthcoming article in Multilingual.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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Whatever Happened to the Real Irish Localization Industry? The Lessons for the Community

Language in Business

I’ve worked in, and around, Irish-based localization for 20 years. Once, it was heralded as a cornerstone of foreign investment in Ireland. Government ministers fell over each other turning up at the opening of the latest localization facility. The rest of the world looked to Ireland for lessons about their own localization sector. Now, some in Ireland accord localization the same level of respect and attention as they would an embarrassing, drunken uncle dancing to a Lily Allen tune at a wedding. There are lessons there…

The nature of localization in Ireland has changed, we’re told. It’s all about tools, smart processes, research, “higher value” activities, and so on, now, they tell us. We know. Except, as anyone seriously engaged in Irish localization for more than a decade knows, these things have always been pursued. Anyone who worked in Lotus Development in Ireland in the late 1980’s could tell you how tools and processes were strategic to localization. And what has this “change” got to do with real innovators and businesses today, anyway?

Once, localization in Ireland was a driving force of the “multi-lingual and cross-cultural information society”.  Now, Irish-based localization is a “lower-level activity” we’re told. That Microsoft’s 25 Years in Ireland article can be such an underwhelming assessment of the contribution localization made to Ireland’s growth (let’s put aside the other incorrect facts in there) is particularly disappointing (I should disclose I am a former employee and current MSFT stock-holder and have let Microsoft know my feelings – with no response). Remember all that stuff about Ireland being the world’s biggest exporter of software? All in English, was it? That’s some low-level activity.

Where Have We Ended Up?

Ireland’s in an economic mess. One of the ways out of this mess is through individual Irish innovators and entrepreneurs reaching out to global markets, instead of waiting around for the government, universities, and the Americans to give us our own Google.  And no, those global markets don’t all speak English either. We need to localize. Users want to use the language they use at home.

In the last few weeks, developers of mobile applications in Ireland asked me (yes, me) how they could get their apps localized (for example, on the iPhone and Android platforms – platforms with excellent internationalization and locale-handling support). There are no resources available to the small business sector and individual entrepreneur for this kind of activity (or at least they can’t find them). So for localization needs, they find friends to translate their strings, use Google translate, or go to big localization vendors that, of course, will say that can do it for the usual prices (fair enough, if you can afford it).

There is not one localization resource on www.apps.ie, the main store for Irish mobile applications. Small wonder, as localization is a “low-level activity.” Yet, Glyph conducted a localization survey of iPhone apps for 11 major markets in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, underlining the power of localization in the mobile app sector: 80% of the top apps in Japan and Korea are fully localized; at least 70% of the top apps in France, Italy and Germany are either fully localized or have localized app store descriptions.

Markets for localized apps. Copyright Glyph 2010

Machine translation, crowd sourcing, next generation research, data sharing, and the other initiatives we hear about at localization conferences – it’s all good. But what relevance is it to anyone in Ireland struggling to get the strings on their little app properly translated so they can sell abroad? I see absolutely none.

None of this is helped when the major Irish business newspaper, the Sunday Business Post publishes an entire supplement about the importance of the web to Irish business, without once mentioning translation at all, and gets away with it, unchallenged.

Let’s be clear: I’m all for next generation research and higher value activity (a relative term anyway). But, what is being done for real people with real products and services now? How do these huge localization initiatives we hear about at conferences actually scale down instead of up? Where are the resources for Irish small and medium enterprises that want to localize and export? Where are the resources for the little guy with the killer app who wants to go global? Instead, they all have to watch Popfly carousel demos “so simple your mom could do it”?


It’s down to interested and motivated members of the community to solve these “low-level” localization demand and supply issues for the little guy now, not the government or the public sector, big LSPs, or large multinationals – as I did in this case with my friend’s localization needs (I hope they’re solved satisfactorily by now!). The lessons for Ireland, and other countries, are clear:

* Keep in touch with the localization needs of the community.

* Find the pulse of local innovation.

* Know your markets and users.

* Stay small, smart, and agile.

* Use your contacts, and leverage social media.

* Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

As Oscar Wilde might say, “It’s better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.”

The opinions in this piece are my own, and not those of any employer or contractor.


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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.

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