How to Translate an App for Android or iPhone

Finding somebody who has not tried an app is as difficult as finding somebody without a cell phone. The FIFA World Cup app, offering life results became the most popular sports app ever by number of downloads in 2014: 18 million and counting. It took the development team at Rovio several failures to develop a game which on paper never sounded like a hit (birds fighting and misbehaving)… but the one hit “Angry Birds” was enough to make Finnish game developers rich. The little game went from domestic to international hit.

The fairly small investment and the potential for immediate global reach is one of the most appealing factors for app development. One of the great things about the international app market is that through platforms like Apple’s App Store and Google Play, app developers and mobile entrepreneurs can access huge numbers of users all over the world. The barrier is, of course, language. 

However, as it happens with software, all apps are not created equal and just creating an app and uploading it to a store does not guarantee its success in the global market.

App developers need to consider some key aspects when they need to translate an app for Android or iPhone with an international audience in mind.

Last year, Gartner estimated that there were 102 billion app downloads around the world. Gartner presented key trends for the mobile industry at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013. Mobile App Store Downloads, Worldwide, 2010-2016 (Millions of Downloads)

  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Free Downloads 57,331 92,876 127,704 167,054 211,313 253,914
Paid-for Downloads 6,654 9,186 11,105 12,574 13,488 14,778
Total Downloads 63,985 102,062 138,809 179,628 224,801 268,692
Free Downloads % 89.6 91.0 92.0 93.0 94.0 94.5

Source: Gartner (September 2013)

If you’re looking to develop a mobile application for tablets and phones, and your intention is to go beyond your home market, you need to have a translation strategy in place very early on. Remember that 72% of potential users will not be native English speakers.

Most software users and mobile gamers want to use apps in their own language. This is natural. It means developers need to prepare to translate an app for Android or iPhone at development stage, before they actually start marketing the apps. So, the question is what languages should I target to maximize revenue when I translate an app for Android or iPhone? How can I balance my code with a multilingual interface?

Top 5 Languages for app translation

According to research, the top 5 languages for app translation were:
  • Spanish (60%)
  • German (45%)
  • French (40%)
  • Portuguese (30%)
  • Italian (25%)

And really you should concentrate on Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Dutch if your goal is to monetize. People from those countries are also keen payers for apps.

However, according to Forbes, if your goal is to boast your numbers with large download numbers, you should translate into Chinese. Chinese market share alone comprised 12% of global mobile games revenue in 2013. That brings any developer to the most important question: when do you translate the apps? Do you wait until afterwards to change the copy?

If you’re marketing a website for the apps, do you translate the website, but keep the icons the same?

Translation strategies for apps

Pangeanic has extensive experience when it comes to specialist translation and user interfaces. Because of our history with Japanese industry, we began translating messages for interfaces in the 1990’s (remember the CD players, DVD players and MiniDiscs?).

We were responsible for many of the messages on the displays in all European languages. So, before apps and even cell phones even existed, we learnt that the best way to translate a user interface is to have a multilingual approach from the beginning. If you develop the interface planning for short English words only, you are sure to run into problems. Almost every language is longer than English, with the exception of Czech. You may find that abbreviating months and days of the week, logging in and logging out and app-specific words and actions constrains the language so much that users cannot understand the message. And that is the last thing that you want with your app.

The market is becoming crowded with competition. Therefore, developers have to remember that to translate an app for Android or iPhone is not technically difficult, not even expensive.

Contact us to find out how a pool of trained and experienced translators can make your app available in the international market very soon. Pangeanic can create machine translation engines and open its powerful API so that some content and feedback is translated automatically.

However, our recommendation is that programmers should always have translation and localization in mind while they design the app. This means you should:

  • allow enough space for longer words
  • keep software strings as clear as possible
  • write strings that have entire sentences (when possible) rather than isolated abbreviations
  • write variables with clear names and definitions
  • check Unicode settings if you are planning to translate an app for Android or iPhone into double-bit languages like Chinese or Japanese
  • plan for right-to-left (RTL) languages if you are launching your app in Arabic or Hebrew
  • avoid words which are so specific that non-gamers may be confused by them.

Follow the above steps and translators will be able to translate an app for Android or iPhone quickly and well for your new markets.

Remember: practically 3 out of 10 users do not speak English or are not native English speakers. It’s essential for your own success to think globally approach when creating apps. Planning translation strategies from the beginning can help guarantee that your app will become truly global and monetizes well.

About Pangeanic

Pangeanic is one of the best translation companies in the world offering professional translation services to businesses and firms with publishing needs. We specialize in the translation of websites, technical documents, and speed multilingual publishing processes for companies, the general public and larger, specialist LSPs.

Pangeanic’s mission is “to offer specialist translation, content and language solutions to document producers for global use.” The mission of PangeaMT – our customized, domain-specific MT technology division, complements the first mission: “Bring democracy and affordability to Machine Translation”.

We envision translation as a standard feature, a utility, which will be incorporated in products and services. Language accessibility to information, documentation will change and push the evolution of human civilization to a much higher level of understanding, education and discovery.