Localization in the World of Mobile Devices

February 24, 2014 |

Through the bay window the line of guests about to enter the house can be previewed. A few family friends and their children with gifts and backpacks planning to stay the night. Fast forward the introductions, the hugs, and the smiles until the fatidic question in its various forms is dropped. “What is the Wi-Fi password here?” The answer is a short combination of letters and numbers that the guests and their children enter in their phones, because bringing laptops would have been too cumbersome and highly asocial. Yet as the gathering’s reminiscing conversations dwindle due to the abduction of their gazes towards their mobile phones, the debate over their sociability is reopened. If this is North America what about the rest of the world? The increasing use of phones in countries of Europe, Asia, and South America, cultures based on solidarity, family, and neighbors, is proving revolutionary. Passwords are being shared this way and that, and internet pages are being accessed in hundreds of languages. Projections for when global mobile internet usage would surpass desktop internet usage pointed to early 2014, a juncture which has already been reached.

While the graphics and layout are very important, the hundreds of languages are initially inserted as text into the very framework of the mobile world; resource, strings, and content files. These have to be adaptable to the wide range of platforms, including Apple iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Mobile, and around 10 others. They employ different file types, different screen sizes, and different image and alphabet support. Furthermore, this range causes difficulties for the testing of mobile applications and internet pages. Besides using the devices themselves, the Apple operating system can be tested on a Macintosh simulator and other desktops also have programs that help preview the mobile compatibility. However, most often, measures have to be taken for the target to include only short texts and short words. This brevity calls for a different method of paying the localization company as well as descriptions of the source texts to help contextualize them. A look at terminology commonly used on each specific platform is also important.

Alphabets are one of the largest challenges. A teenager might be accessing a game that feels like it was designed in the United States only to have Chinese adverts come up, or vertical text. With less than 10% of worldwide content localized, Europeans can somewhat understand English applications, but hardly ones in Arabic, Korean, or Japanese, etc. The most difficult market might be Uzbekistan, where the youth population prefers the Latin script, the elderly prefer Cyrillic, and a minority use Arabic. One last statistic reveals that 70% of devices don’t render fonts as they were intended. Thus instead of entering the content as text, an image of the writing is sometimes used, hindering usability.

There are success stories in the mobile world, and without them, families and friends wouldn’t sacrifice their conversation times to check on their phones. Once a company has a contract with a localization firm and they have developed a plan, the sky is the limit! Many of the processes that were difficult the first time become automated, such as quote creation, engineering tasks, and much of the communication. User generated content, once a certain scale has been reached, can even be machine translated. There is certainly a case for mobile software and internet localization so that the heads of families, the hotel concierges,  and the restaurant waiters of the world can provide a service when they give out their establishment’s Wi-Fi password!

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Category: Business Translation

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