Should I Localize My App?

It seems everyone is pushing localization. Apple frequently reminds you in iTunes Connect that you’re missing out if you aren’t localized. There are tons of services, such as Smooth Localize, that specialize in affordable localization. I have apps that are localized and apps that aren’t.

But is it worth it to localize? You do open your app up to new markets. You also open yourself up to what can add up to a lot of extra work.

Localization Options

When we talk about localization, you can lump it into two options. First, you can localize your description, title, and keywords in iTunes Connect. This is the easiest and least expensive option. When you hear app marketing specialists talking about localization, this is often what they mean. This helps with app discovery in other countries. The problem with this option is that the user may expect they are getting a fully localized app, but find out differently when they actually download. This can lead to bad reviews and a general lack of revenue. I did this with one of my apps and did not receive any negative feedback. It didn’t feel right to me, though.

A full localization includes all the marketing material, iTunes Connect data, and the entire app. It’s not too difficult to do, but it can take a lot of time. Keep in mind, though, it’s like many Xcode related tasks. I recently spent a full hour updating a lightly localized app because Interface Builder wanted to fight with my localization string files.

Testing Your Localized App

Testing a localized app can be a pain. Some phrases take up more space in certain languages and cause truncation. Also, even if you use a reputable service, you are never sure if the message you are trying to get across, marketing or app text, is exactly how you want. One trick I have found is to make different schemes in Xcode for each language so that when you build and run, it automatically runs the app in the desired language. This is more efficient than manually changing the language on the device or simulator. Apple has a nice guide on this here.

Screenshots Are Not Your Friend

I quit localizing my app Who’s Calling mostly because creating tons of new screenshots for every update was more time consuming than the extra downloads are worth. I had built in all the localization, but I just didn’t want to hassle with all the work for every update. Imagine when the app preview video will need to be localized. Fun. Also, if you have more than one app, imagine doing all that work for each app for each update. More fun.

Customer Service

It’s easy to forget that when you localize an app, customers from other countries will now email you support questions. As someone who only speaks English, this is a problem. Talking to someone through google translate is not a productive way to communicate. If you do this, you’ll mostly end up with disgruntled customers and bad reviews.

The Numbers

When I look at my app Who’s Calling, 90% of it’s revenue is from English speaking countries. When I localized, I didn’t see many extra downloads for the eight or nine languages I targeted. I spent a ton of time customizing the app, including contact images for different languages, with not much return. In the end it wasn’t worth it. However, I did learn how to fully localize and that is worth something is my growth as an app developer. I try to have that mindset with everything I try. Hey, that bombed, but I added the experience to my app toolbox.

My Advice

If you are working on an app, I would launch the first version in your native language unless you have a compelling reason to localize in other languages. See how the launch goes and monitor you downloads in other countries. You can add localization to an app at any time (though an update) so you aren’t forgoing localization in the future. If it’s your first app, definitely skip the localization. You have enough on your plate just getting the core features down.

When you do localize, try a couple of the most popular languages first instead of adding ten in one update. You can also consider only localizing the iTunes Connect data at first, but be prepared for the drawbacks I mentioned above. For us in the US, localizing in Spanish should be the place to start.