Internationalizing Your App

When we made Idea Bucket, we thought we’d support internationalization to increase our sales. We opted to support Simplified Chinese and German localizations as we had access to native speakers who could translate our app. It seemed like a smart idea. More languages means more sales internationally. Maybe. Internationalization is a feature and it affects your product development cycle. I advise implementing support for internationalization from day one. But, assuming your native tongue is English, I do not recommend supporting any additional localizations unless:

  1. Your app is geologically specific to a certain country / territory.
  2. The decision to support multiple languages is outside of your control.

Every Language is a Commitment

Once you add a localization for a language, every bit of what you do has an additional consequence. On the app store you need to localize your keywords, description, and every “What’s new in this Release” blurb. In your app, every alert, error, form field, and pretty much every piece of text you add will need to be translated. If you want to move quickly and you have no way of translating these things your self you will have to delay. Yes, it’s tempting just to throw the text into Google translate, but then you run the risk of looking bad to that audience by sounding like an idiot or saying the wrong thing entirely. When it comes to internationalization either do it right or leave it in English.

Just remember: every language you support is a commitment. Each localization has a cost. Depending on your situation this cost can vary. But it is undoubtedly a cost.

Localize for English

Unless I’m working on an app specific to Germany or China, I won’t be implementing localizations for those countries in my app. Not for a while. I will have a file full of English translations and build the app with support for localization from day one. But I won’t add support for additional languages until I can justify the cost of adding one.

Localize Your App for Valid Markets

There are people all over the world who know “some” English. I would say imposing English is not doing the world a good service, but the reality is that it is enough to get a decent amount of sales in many large countries where English is not the primary language. With your app in English you can sell around the world. Not very well, but you can. This can give you some barometer on whether or not it’s worth your trouble to take on the cost of supporting another locality or not.

I truly do believe you should internationalize your app. But don’t do it right away. If you internationalize it they won’t come. Approach support for a locality as if you were targeting a market. Plan out how you’d reach people in that market before you start going through all of the trouble to maintain that localization in your app.

Promoting and marketing a successful app is not easy, and as an independent developer you have very limited resources. Make sure you’re using those resources wisely.