If you make the effort to go to one of the many developer gatherings around the world, whether it be a large-scale conference like Apple's WWDC or Google's I/O, or a smaller independent gathering like a local Cocoaheads, the chances are that you will be able to experience a talk, discusssion or presentation focused on localising apps. Localisation is a hot topic of discussion, and for good reason.
So, what exactly do we mean when we refer to localising mobile apps? When we talk about this topic there's a genuine chance of confusion creeping into the fold. More often than not, two different words with very different meanings will be talked about when the conversation errs toward localisation; internationalisation and localisaton. They both sound like they could be used interchangeably to refer to the same thing, but in reality, they are actually different in both their meaning and their requirements from an app perspective.
It's important to clear up any confusion on the matter. Internationalisation refers to the whole stack process of preparing an application to be marketed, launched or sold in an entirely new country. That means geting the app ready for a new marketplace, and could involve things llike ensuring that the product is fit for purpose, or that it conforms to any legislation or cultural requirements in that particular territory.
Localisation, on the other hand, refers to the translation of individual parts of an application into different languages, which could be strings of text and graphics, but could also involve translating currency, units of measurement and other areas of the app to cater to new languages. The two words may ultimately mean different things, but of course, there will be some cross-pollination when internationalising and localising a mobile app.
Now that we've cleared that up and hopefully removed any confusion, why exactly is localisation of apps potentially so important? The answer to that can be as complicated or as simple as you choose to make it, but it really boils down to the notion that mobile devices and apps are used in hundreds of countries worldwide, and not every person in those countries speaks English. Nor do they want to use an application in English.
Localising an application - making it accessible and easy to use and understand in the native mother tongue of theose using it around the world - can result in not only a substantial increase in downloads and engaged users, but can also bring in increased revenue and positive reviews on the App Store. We all know how important reviews are to the continued growth and discoverability of an app.
The discussion around whether or not an application 'should' be localised is for an entirely different time. The importance of localisation is based on the results of investigative work and market research, to truly define whether or not foreign language speakers actually 'want' your app in their mother tongue. If all of that research points to a resounding 'yes' , then there's a goldmine of users and potential revenue to be tapped into.
A recent study from Distomo titled " The Impact of App Translations" provided an interesting insight into the importance of app localisation, by showing that just the simple localising of text in an iPhone application resulted in a 128% rise in downloads per country. That increase in downloads also resulted in a 2% increase in revenue for each country that was added and supported by localised text strings within the app.
It's common sense to understand that not all apps that are localised will instantly see a rise in downloads and revenues. It of course depends on the nature of the app, the category that it lives in, and the interest and demand for it on a truly international level.
But with all of that in mind, the localisation effect can be staggering, as developer David Janner noted as part of a localisation experiment. The experiment showed that his original application was accumulating appprocimately 3,000 downloads per month, with that number rising an astronomical 767% post-localisation to a total of 23,000 downloads each month.
The conclusion we can reach here is fairly simple; if you happen to be the owner of an application that could appeal to foreign markets through proper localisation of text and graphics, then the yields of that localisation could potentially be enormous.