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These days it’s hard not to be dazed by the surge in mobile app popularity around theAre you on the right track to global mobile app localization? world. From social networking and shopping to travel and gaming, apps of all sorts are being consumed at an increasingly frantic pace.

Naturally, you may be bouncing around a big, exciting idea within your boardroom walls right about now:

What if we introduce a new or existing global mobile application in additional countries?

After all, the statistics seem to steer us toward thinking of mobile app localization as a wise investment:

  • Africa’s mobile market is set to grow 18 percent by the end of next year, against the world average of 11 percent (Informa Telecoms & Media).
  • Asia’s mobile share of web traffic grew more than 192 percent in the past two years.
  • Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android market saw 20 billion downloads in 2011.
  • The three largest mobile markets are China, India and the United States; there are more than a billion users in China alone.

And it’s only going to get bigger.

If this isn’t your first ride on the localization train, then you already know that many of the traditional rules will apply in your global mobile app localization effort. So, what should you keep in mind before you leave the boardroom all psyched up and ready to roll?

1.      Do your research

Yes, it’s important to know that Asia and Africa are claiming bigger spots in the mobile app marketplace. But that shouldn’t be your only deciding factor. Much depends on the purpose of your global mobile app, the user profiles of your target countries and the prevalent platforms in those target markets as well.

For example, a resort chain may decide to introduce its travel app in Spain, where it has just opened a new spa retreat. In this case, it would be important to consider mobile app user preferences in the target region. What look do users respond best to? What do they expect from a mobile app experience? Are there specific demands in the local market that shape the requirements of your app? Which mobile networks dominate in the region?

2.      Consider all aspects of localization

It’s not enough to simply translate your global mobile app’s user interface elements. Think about the last app you used (even if it happened to be the universally addictive Angry Birds). There are many elements that should be customizable for your target market: number formats, symbols, icons, graphics, currency formats and so many more internationalization concerns.

If, for example, your global mobile app implements its own pop-up touchscreen keyboard, you should consider the needs of your international users to ensure that they can enter text in their native script. While mobile devices and smart phones are being shipped with increasingly higher screen resolutions, usability and aesthetics need to be considered too. Translated text can often expand by as much as 25 percent, affecting the layout and visual appeal of your app. Some scripts may be very difficult to read if the displayed font size is not sufficiently large.

3.      Integrate with your software distribution platform

If the mobile platform is just one of your company’s targeted release mechanisms, your global mobile app should maintain a consistent product look and feel to your other targeted platforms to ensure consistent branding and product usability. You do not want to force your customer to re-learn a new mechanism to interact with your product. This may be challenging, particularly when targeting multiple mobile platforms and should also be weighed against the need to get the most out of the platform’s feature set and ensure a consistent platform interface. However, the extra effort will be rewarded, both in terms of product sales and market ratings.

Other questions to ask: Does your global mobile app reflect your brand’s color scheme and overall appearance? Are there any cultural incompatibilities that you may need to address prior to releasing it in your target market? You may need to consider cultural associations with specific colors, or different interpretations of icons or images used in your mobile app.

4.      Perform in-country testing to ensure quality

Before any major release, you need to run through your standard testing suite to ensure functionality and usability levels are where they should be. Think about the user interface design, performance levels and whether your global mobile app meets end users’ expectations.

After you have eliminated any functionality concerns and product defects, you should consider testing your application on the devices and networks that it’s intended for. During this phase, carrying out user acceptance testing in the target market could highlight any market-specific concerns and return some very useful market specific feedback. Consider a beta (test stage) program, customer early-adopter program or work with a company like Sajan who can provide the necessary in-country qualified reviewers.

Is your company planning to localize a global mobile app as a standalone offering or perhaps as a strategic part of your entire distribution platform? Or maybe you’ve already laid the tracks for successful mobile app localization. Questions, thoughts, ideas, pointers—let us hear ‘em.