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Mobile app localization with Phrase

Mobile devices are the primary gateway to a vast market, but only localized apps can unlock the potential. Phrase is an easy-to-use translation management tool that is uniquely geared towards the specific needs of mobile app developers.

Mobile apps are the primary gateway to a vast and growing customer base. App developers find Phrase to be an easy-to-use translation management tool that is uniquely geared towards their specific needs. Integrating with common development platforms and tools, Phrase offers efficient workflows and effectively handles the divergent file types and formats of cross-platform development.

The vital role of app localization

The world is increasingly interconnected and mobile devices play a vital role. In 2020, there are 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide. 62% of smartphone users have made a purchase on the device and mobile apps are projected to generate 188.9 billion US dollars in revenue.

In 2019, there were around 1.27 billion people worldwide who spoke English either natively or as a second language, which is about 17% of the world population. About 72.1% of internet users prefer to interact with (and buy from) websites translated in their native language.

This makes it obvious that app marketers need to localize in order to tap into global markets and benefit from the huge sales potential of the interconnected world. 

A properly localized app offers your content to your end-users in a familiar way: native language; familiar layout and color schemes; native number, currency, measurement, and date formats, etc.

The goal of all this is to put the user at ease. Your app should not present a hurdle in the sales journey, so all interactions with your app need to be as smooth as with a native app. 

Basic requirements for localization

Native-like apps need to meet the following minimal requirements:

  • Support for foreign character sets,
  • Layouts that allow for right-to-left or vertical text display,
  • Fluid layouts that adapt shorter or longer text pieces,
  • Code that can display numbers, currencies, measurements, and dates in appropriate formats.

In addition, app developers need to consider the increased complexity of multilingual development. Any change in the code base has cascading effects in all localized versions. Thus, creating and maintaining a localized app is also a significant workflow challenge.

While the majority of smartphones run on Android, iOS is a premium segment that is not to be neglected. Cross-platform development is therefore a likely necessity. For a consistent look and feel across platforms, you need a localization strategy that is sensitive to platform-specific terminology but strives for similarity where appropriate.

Key steps in mobile app localization

While each development project is unique, successful localization includes:

  1. Planning (What is my target market? What languages do I need? What do my customers want?),
  2. Localization-friendly design (Does my app have a fluid layout? Have I left enough space for text expansion?),
  3. Internationalization (preparing your code for localization, exporting text into resource files),
  4. Giving translators access to resource files and providing them with reference material,
  5. Translation (including revision, proofing, and review),
  6. Integration of translations into the codebase,
  7. Localization testing,
  8. Release.

The main challenge is to perform these steps efficiently and effectively. Automation should be used where possible to increase speed and reduce human error, but not where human judgment is needed.

How Phrase can aid app localization

Created by developers for developers, Phrase provides deep integration with major development environments relevant to mobile app creators. With the Phrase CLI, developers can access the Phrase platform directly from their command line. Phrase's Android Studio Plugin and its iOS SDK include additional convenience scripts as well as access to most common version control tools. Phrase is aware of branching in your own codebase and also offers localization-specific branching to allow for the staging of translations.

Normalizing divergent formats

While Android stores its translations in XML files, iOS uses a plain-text strings format. Depending on which actual internationalization mechanisms are being used, other formats may come into play as well, such as .plist, .stringsdict, or JSON. Functionally, these are largely equivalent, and Phrase supports them all. Translators do not even need to be aware of the intricacies of each format because Phrase abstracts away from them, allowing the translators to focus on keys and strings

Under the hood, Phrase also abstracts away from platform-specific variable formats. Numbers, dates, or embedded string values are represented differently in Android and iOS, but Phrase converts them to a common format for translation. This allows translators to concentrate on their linguistic tasks. Phrase then ensures compatibility with the target platforms by converting the variables back into the respective formats.

Reusing translations where appropriate 

Phrase is a key-based translation tool. Developers can leverage this fact to aim for platform differentiation and conformity where needed: Platform-specific keys would be used for features with different language usage between Android and iOS while matching keys would guarantee consistency. 

With translation memory and terminology management, Phrase helps translators provide consistent translations. Several productivity features speed up the process. Pre-translation populates new segments with existing human translations or with machine translations from a number of available engines. With Phrase's dashboard and reporting, localization managers can keep an easy overview.

Breaking free from release cycles

Lastly, Phrase's Over the Air feature makes it possible to push updated translations directly to end-user devices, without having to go through the App Stores. Simple text updates thus do not require a new app release.

Explore our top resources on mobile app localization

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