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There’s a Language for That: Translating Mobile Apps And Content

  • Written by By Judd Marcello, Smartling
  • Published in Demanding Views

1newjudd“There’s an app for that,” promised Apple’s famous slogan from the early days of the iPhone. While this was once a disruptive, head-turning concept, today it’s…well, pretty much true. Apps have taken over our lives, not just filling up our phones but also our televisions, computers, tablets, cars and more. Anything with a screen is pretty much fair game.

The ease with which enterprises can install, implement among their workforce and engage with apps — as well as the relative ease and speed with which developers can produce them — has made applications among the most important means by which brands interact with and provide services to customers.

However, many apps today overlook a fundamental aspect that determines whether or not they will be adopted: language. Most native English speakers have never (intentionally) downloaded an app written in a different language. Conversely, a mobile app that is available only in English will not, in all likelihood, ever be used by the multitudes of non-English-speaking users around the globe.

In fact, they might not even be able to locate it in their app store. As a result, there is a huge number of apps that have no access to millions or billions of potential customers, for the simple reason that the person in an organization’s IT department researching applications to solve a problem speaks a different language than the app does. It’s estimated that only between 5% and 6% of the globe’s population are native English speakers. Given this, it’s pretty clear that an English-only application will be severely limited on a global scale as to whom it can reach.

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Clearly, language can be an important hurdle for marketers looking to reach users and businesses beyond U.S. borders with a mobile app. Counterintuitively for some, it’s also a hurdle for marketers only focusing on the U.S. — due to multilingual audiences and non-native English speakers in the country, while global growth may not be for every company, global content must be.

Compounding this importance is the fact that the most significant economic growth and increases in purchasing power are usually occurring in parts of the world where English is either not spoken, or is not the preferred language. This means there has never been a more critical time for brands to devise or rethink their global content strategies — and an essential part of this entails translation and localization, so mobile apps can be fluent in any language.

Even just translating the app store description into multiple languages can improve positioning in store rankings. Because app store postings are reviewed by humans (unlike Web search results), high-quality writing and translation are extremely influential. Using localization (the addition of cultural nuances) in conjunction with translation will further assure that brand messages reach business and IT decision makers as they were intended.

In fact, even if users are comfortable with English, users are far more likely to adopt a product or service (or download an app) that’s in their native language. A study, “The Impact of App Translations,” from Distomo showed that localizing iPhone app text resulted in significantly more downloads — 128% more per country, in fact. Additionally, companies saw a 26% increase in revenue for each country added via app localization. What’s more, these results were achieved within just one week of offering a localized app.

Let’s say an IT manager in Brazil is researching applications that will allow him to securely send documents between devices in the cloud. There are a large number of applications in English that can perform that function, but if, say, only two of them are translated into Portuguese (the language most commonly spoken in Brazil), those two will have a significantly higher chance of being chosen by virtue of being first to that market than in the United States, where an English speaker has far more options.

From there, the decision between the two might be as simple as opening both and seeing which one is easier to understand, and speaks more specifically to the IT manager’s way of thinking and communicating — which is to say, which one is better localized. It could also come down to features between the two, but without proper translation and localization even the most feature-laden and easy-to-use application won’t be seen as such if it can’t properly communicate its value to prospective organizations.

Truly, there is an app for nearly everything today — from collaboration and supply chain tracking to mobile games for your cat to play. But without a global content strategy that makes use of translation and localization and allows you to communicate effectively with the 95% of the world that doesn’t speak English, there might not be a customer for that. At least, not many you will actually reach.


Judd Marcello is the VP of Marketing at Smartling, a global content translation and localization solution provider. Prior to Smartling, Marcello held senior-level roles at Salesforce ExactTarget and eBay Enterprise Marketing Solutions.