Customer Experience

Mobile App Localization: Everything You Need to Know

Understand the ins and outs of mobile app localization in the ever-changing translation technology industry.

Nathan Lucas's avatar
Nathan Lucas

July 18, 2022


Mobile app localization is the latest method of reaching new audiences in their preferred languages. According to Statista, there are about 6.64 billion smartphone users worldwide, which means that 83.89% of the world’s population people currently use their smartphones on the go.

Both operating systems offer mobile applications (mobile apps) created by various companies that provide a variety of functionality for smartphone users. Companies in the digital age want to offer desktop-like digital content to their mobile customers.

Companies that run apps can easily and quickly go global just by translating and localizing their content for new markets. 

Having an app in a language customers prefer can increase app visibility, downloads, sales, and customer loyalty. By leveraging mobile application localization technologies, companies can now provide a convenient, in-language experience for customers, employees, and partners all over the world.  

What is Application Localization?

App localization refers to the process of adapting your app to different languages, cultures, and markets, beyond translating an app page and interface. App localization is a tactic that ensures users have a smooth journey to an in-app conversion in a targeted market.

When translating and localizing a mobile app, you must follow specific steps and best practices. Mobile app localization adapts an app interface that suits the global markets, often including linguistic and cultural differences. For instance, Chinese is written vertically, with lines read from left to right, top to bottom.

By preparing a mobile app’s interface for various languages, a translation service provider can translate content on an ongoing basis without the need for more development time or maintenance.

How to Localize an App: The Process

The process of localizing an app includes preparing for localization through market research, choosing a localization method, and managing and optimizing that localization. There are also challenges of app localization to keep in mind and you work through the process. Localization is successful when you’ve considered all challenges, planned well, and have a strong process for maximum success.

1. Prep Your Mobile App for Localization

Everything starts with market research when developing a localization strategy. Market research will provide useful insights for adjusting your localization application workflow. Customers want a local experience from start to finish with your brand, including sales, support, and service.

Researching mobile app localization involves selecting specific countries and languages to target. It also involves understanding your motivation for expanding into those particular areas. Research will also help you understand your potential customers on a deeper level and see if they would be interested in your app. Research popular localized apps to understand how they impact the market you want to reach.  

Study competitor app layouts and design and read customer reviews. See what customers like and dislike, including what they may not want, features that may need fixing, anything to show you the pros and cons of possible competitors. 

If you’re ready to engage with international customers, you’ll need to determine what needs to be translated and localized. One consideration to keep in mind when developing a localization strategy is which languages are already available for translation. The App Store is available in 175 regions and 40 languages, and Google Play features around 50 languages to translate apps for users around the world to discover and use.

App Localization vs. Internationalization (I18N) 

Once a company decides to translate its mobile application, they must decide if they want to engage in internationalization (i18n) as well. I18N involves planning, implementing, and adapting the mobile app to a specific area, language, and culture.

I18N involves making the mobile app suitable for the audience’s preferred language through localization and translation. This consists of all the region’s localization aspects, including currency conversion, date formats, and cultural norms. The goal of I18N is to alter the mobile app to look like it was developed in the local culture and market.

When preparing global application localisation, experts recommend following the following best practices.

  • Prep mobile app to support local languages and cultural settings. For example, Arabic translations read right-to-left, unlike English or other western languages. 
  • Building the mobile application with some of these best practices in mind is essential. They can influence the overall functionality and success of the application and ease of translating new content.
  • Keep the text separate from images. Store text strings in resource files in the appropriate file format and not inside the framework of the codebase. This helps reduce development time and the need to write additional code every time new content needs to be translated.

2. Choose a Method of Mobile App Localization

There are various ways mobile apps can be localized without needing a team of translators. The following options are the most cost-effective and scalable:

Mobile Software Developments Kits (Mobile SDK) + Translation Service Providers 

Software development kits, or SDKs, are downloadable software packages that contain all the tools needed to build mobile apps. In the case of mobile app translation, a translation service provider mobile SDK would be able to translate new content (text strings) without resubmitting the app.  

API & Connector Integrations + Translation Service Providers 

You can utilize connectors or APIs by communicating with translation services provided through integration. A company can link their mobile app to translation service providers to get new content and translate it using integration 

After translation, the customer will receive a notification to request the translated content. An alternative method is that the app can “poll” our API periodically to see if a job has been completed.  

Manual + Translation Service Providers 

Another alternative is to add translations to the mobile app manually—a translation service provider generates in-language content by request, which is then sent to the mobile app developers to add it to the app. Simple, yet time-consuming, and can have delays due to resubmission of the mobile app.

3. Select a Translation Service Provider

Besides ensuring your mobile app is ready for localization, you should consider the ability of the translation service provider that will be facilitating the translations.

Always look for the automation capabilities of your translation service provider. All new content should be translated and updated automatically. For effortless management, your translation services provider should be able to stay up to date with over-the-air (OTA) updates; this can include software updates, configurations and settings, or encryption keys.

Make sure to find out the translation service provider’s localization processes. Is it a continuous process or file-based? Most businesses looking to localize their mobile app are on a strict schedule or require a translation process that requires minimal effort.

A file-based approach allows localization managers to track progress, review, and commit changes through document files. This means constant communication between the translator service provider, tech teams, and management is required. You find this approach is common when translations on the mobile app are done manually or through translation integration such as APIs or connectors.  

A continuous process approach allows content files or text strings to go into a repository and, if changes are made, they automatically get sent to translation. Localization managers may struggle to trust translation service providers for good work, even though they have a hands-off approach. You find this approach is common with mobile translation SDKs or through translation integrations.

Both approaches are all dependent on your team and the amount of control your business needs. Some translation services provide a hybrid approach for mobile apps that can include the continuous automated translation process with the workflow visibility of a file-based approach. 

Mobile applications constantly need updating to keep up with trends, security protocols, and consumer preferences. A trustworthy and experienced translation service provider should work with your application, regardless of your changes.

4. App Store Optimization (ASO) and Launch

App developers need to use ASO techniques to get their app to the top of app store search results. Just like internet marketers use SEO to rank web pages in search engine results. This includes optimizing app titles, keywords, screenshots, app descriptions, etc.  

For a worldwide app, you must start from the beginning in each language. Research is necessary to discover the best search terms and popular phrases that will guide users to your app.  

It’s also crucial to think about what the app content looks like on the front-end of Apple and Google app stores. You’ll need to ensure your app contains the product page recommendations for the Apple app store and preview assets for the Google Play store 

Using localization in the preview elements will allow people searching for your app to see right away that your app will feature functionalities they’ll both understand and appreciate. 

The Challenges of App Localization

There are many benefits to localizing a mobile app, but the process is not without challenges. Here are a few elements of localization to keep in mind both before and during the process so you stay on track.

Slower Time to Market

Localization takes time to develop and implement, and it can be difficult to seamlessly integrate localization and translation into the development workflow if it’s not done properly. To release software faster, localization should be included in the initial development process.  

Localization occurs simultaneously with other development tasks. Therefore, there is no need to delay translation and localization of the app until development is complete. This way, continuous localization is part of the continuous deployment process. 

Translation Quality and Accuracy Issues

Inaccurate or incorrect translations can lead to misunderstandings and an overall lack of interest in your app. Your target demographic may perceive it as an insult, which is more important. Easy-to-use translation tools might be tempting at first because they’re free and can get the point across with simple sentences.  

Evaluating translation quality is more in-depth than simply making sure your translations are “correct. Translation quality must be evaluated to ensure a high degree of quality for both translation and localization projects. To attract users to your app, focus on translating and adapting it to the language and culture of your target market. This will greatly benefit your business. 

Difficulty Measuring ROI

The measurement of success for any business venture is return on investment (ROI), and translation and localization are one of many investments made on the path to market benefits. But, measuring ROI for translation and localization company can be difficult. ROI is often looked at through a singular lens, comparing the amount of money spent directly to how much profit was brought in.     

Localization measurements can take time to evaluate. Establishing baseline metrics for the specific regions where you’re deploying a mobile app can help you find tangible measurements directly related to app localization. Select metrics that make the most sense for your product and business and make sure they align with your overall business goals. 

The Case for Mobile App Localization

More people use mobile phones, so brands have made apps for shopping, banking, transportation, and healthcare. Through globalization, companies can compete in foreign markets and generate customer loyalty by utilizing mobile app localization to connect with users in their native language.  

With a mobile app in their language, you can give customers a complete experience by serving them in their preferred language. This adds significant value throughout the buyer’s journey.  

MotionPoint helps brands worldwide with translation and localization of mobile apps, including native, hybrid, and progressive web apps. Contact our team to learn more. 

Last updated on July 18, 2022
Nathan Lucas's avatar

About Nathan Lucas

Nathan Lucas is a web developer who enjoys bringing to life the ideas and concepts of the marketing and sales team. If they can dream it, he can build it. When he’s not working, he enjoys being a husband and father, adventures in the great outdoors, fitness, and art!

Nathan Lucas's avatar
Nathan Lucas

Digital Marketing Developer


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