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

Mobile app and software localization is not as easy. But, with a little preparation and the right team, you can ease the process enormously, saving time and money. 

In computing, #internationalization and #localization are means of adapting computer software to different languages, regional differences and technical requirements of a target market (locale). Internationalization is the process of designing a software application so that it can potentially be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes.

If you have any questions or need further clarification on these tips, feel free to contact us.




Mobile apps and embedded systems – just like regular software – are localized through resource files. The first step before translation is internationalization, which involves “outsourcing” the translatable text into separate files and allowing the software to replace the source language strings with the translated strings. Internationalization also means the possibility to display different writing systems and the use of input method editors.

Mobile application strategy


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 contacting us or requesting a quote.

Localization of mobile devices and #apps requires a unique approach. Devices are often carrier-specific, or features on these devices are added, modified or removed depending on the carrier’s locale. Apps on such devices need to be in compliance with local laws and regulations and have to be culturally adapted to the user’s language and environment.

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.

During validation, each language is tested by our localization engineers. This step is the final quality assurance before release. It allows checking that the app works properly in the target language, that nothing is missing, that all the links work and that all localizable content has been translated.

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 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 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.

Once you have a localization process in place for your mobile app, regardless of the platform, updates will be easier to implement for a fraction of the cost. 

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2012 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensivenes.