American Marketer


Mobile apps: Speak consumers’ languages or risk losing commerce opportunities

September 25, 2012

Atul Tulshibagwale is CEO of LinguaNext


By Atul Tulshibagwale

Many marketers do not take a traditional internationalization approach when building their mobile applications. However, as Internet connectivity and online commerce continue to grow, it will be necessary to provide apps in different languages to meet consumers’ needs.

There are approximately 60 million people just in the United States speaking a language other than English in their homes.

In addition, many key international markets are experiencing 100 percent annual growth in 3G connections – in India it is more than ten times that figure.

Mobile apps are for many consumers their access point to the Internet and the world of ecommerce and mobile commerce. If you do not provide your mobile apps in other languages, you risk potentially missing out on valuable commerce opportunities.

So what can you do to address this?

There are different approaches that marketers can take to reach non-English speaking audiences and drive mobile app downloads and conversions. Let us take a look at them.

Manual translation
Marketers have the option to manually translate apps into desired languages. It can be time- and labor-intensive, but is the most cost-effective option for reaching non-English speakers – but only at the outset.

Since this is not a scalable solution over time, marketers would need to engage translators every time they want to upgrade their app or add enhancements, and the costs would increase as a result.

If you have long-term growth plans for your mobile apps, this may not be the best option for you.

Traditional localization
Localization is the process of modifying internationalized software for a specific region or language by adding locale-specific components and translating text.

For apps that were not internationalized when developed, it is oftentimes complicated and risky to localize them after the fact since it is similar to changing the apps’ DNA.

During the localization process, bugs could potentially be introduced and the architecture and stability of the apps themselves could be compromised.

However, if you have a lot of developers with the bandwidth to dedicate exclusively to this approach, or if you are trying to reach audiences where the look-and-feel of the app may need to be modified to ensure that images and colors are appropriate for certain cultures or regions on a global scale, then localization is a tact to potentially consider.

Software language add-ons
There are software language add-on solutions available that can be used to translate what a user sees on his screen with regards to an app.

These solutions do not affect the underlying app architecture or data, regardless of whether the app has been internationalized or not, and are synched to ensure that when over-the-air updates are made to the app that the translated versions are updated as well.

A user can choose the language he wants when seeing the app if it is offered and can then immediately interact with the app in the chosen language.

Implementation of such a solution is, for the most part, straightforward. However, it requires that a marketer invest time upfront and that it provide clear feedback to the chosen vendor on translated text and other factors to ensure a smooth process.

THE BEST MOBILE apps are useless if consumers are unable to understand and use them.

You have one chance to make a first impression, and if the impression does not speak to your audiences, they will quickly move on to the next app in the marketplace.

Atul Tulshibagwale is CEO of enterprise application language management firm LinguaNext Inc., San Jose, CA. Reach him at