The Value of App Localization for Israeli Businesses

Quick Summary - What is app localization and why are Israeli companies in a great position to profit from it?

App Localisation

What is App Localization?

Simply put, App Localization is the “translation of software” developed for one language and culture to another language and culture. In most cases, it involves the translation and optimization of text, but also the images, symbols, colors, and User Interface to be culturally relevant to an additional audience. The effort includes:

  • Translations of intended (not literal) meanings of languages. Literal translations can have unintended meanings and nuances.
  • Text-length and spacing can be an issue. The word “go” in English translates to “gehen” in German – which won’t fit on a small button. Symbols with recognized meanings (and color), like a green “greater than” sign might be used instead.
  • Different character sets need to be supported for each family of languages or alphabets, like Latin, Greek, Hebraic, Arabic, not to mention eastern languages like Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese.
  • Colors and graphics – what might be commonly accepted in one culture may be deeply offensive in another. Colors also have cultural significance, like red and yellow being popular in China, or green and gold being favored in some Arabic countries.
  • User interactivity – some languages read right to left instead of left to right like English, often having an impact on how end-users swipe or interact with an app.

The good news is that app localization involves few to no changes in the actual software code beyond that associated with design and UI elements. This is heavier when converting between languages that read left-to-right and/or right-to-left. App localization costs per language can range between 5% and 40% of an app’s development costs depending on the nuances of each language.

The Value of App Localization for Israeli Businesses

By and large, to scale effectively, Israeli businesses must bring their software to the global market owing to having a local population of ~9 million. Israeli developers have uncommon advantages for knowing two or more alphabets (Hebraic, English, sometimes others like Greek or Cyrillic) and are familiar reading in both directions. So, Israeli developers know the nuances of app localization better than most – even if they don’t know every language.

While many enterprises develop software for global distribution, most smaller companies focus on the EU and North American markets. Quite a few develop exclusively for the English-speaking market. Certainly, English does provide the biggest bang for your ROI, representing about 13% of the world’s population as native or secondary speakers while capturing ~30% of the world’s GDP. App localization is about trying to tap into the most viable languages of that other 70%.

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Determining if a language is viable for app localization

Several factors apply to whether or not a language is a candidate for your app localization efforts. Even more factors apply to the prioritization of those efforts. Any decision should be driven by market research and business plans. But, it’s often in the business planning where a lot is left on the table. Nevertheless, core market data concerns:

  • Overall population who speak a language.
  • Geographical concentration of language speakers as tied to the reach of distribution channels.
  • Demographic affinity with your own target market and end-users.
  • Demographics of device/platform use. (i.e. mobile vs. desktop, iOS vs Android, etc.)
  • Distribution channels based upon type of software (app stores, retail, web, etc.)
  • Paywall – far less of an issue than a decade ago, but not everyone has a credit card. In developing markets, you may need to connect with mobile payment processors.
  • Legal hurdles or “ease of doing business” in a country where publishing your app (like in China) may require you to have an in-country partner or presence. Also, adult apps are regulated differently from country to country.

One extremely helpful tool for your demographic research is the Statcounter database. It lets you select country/region, by operating system, mobile vs. tablet vs desktop, operating system version, browser, and numerous other criteria.

It’s worth looking at a few examples of how some of these factors apply to different countries and/or languages.

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German

It is spoken by 130 million people globally while Germany has a population of about 83 million people of which about 66 million have smartphones. Statcounter indicates 64% use Android, 36% use iOS, and about 2% use other systems. Germany’s also #4 globally on GDP while ranking #12 by per capita income. While German has a few special characters, adapting an English app to German is a pretty standard effort. German is an excellent candidate for app localization.

Spanish

Spanish is spoken by over 420 million native speakers spread across over 20 countries, spanning three continents (plus Equatorial Guinea) and includes just as many major dialects. Mexico is home to ~124 million Spanish speakers, with Columbia, Argentina, and Spain each having 40-50 million. Though purchasing power is typically lower, Spanish is also a great candidate for app localization. One of the main factors is which of 20 official Spanish-speaking countries you wish to reach and including it in your distribution plans.

United States

Despite English being its official language, the USA’s 332 million population includes about 41 million Spanish speakers. Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken by 3.4 million, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, Korean, Russian and German are also spoken by roughly 1-2 million people, each. Some businesses focus specifically on providing support to these smaller communities.

India

Over 550 million people speak Hindi. Bengali, Telugu, Tamil and Urdu are all spoken by 50 – 100 million people each. English is spoken as a secondary or tertiary language by an estimated 125 million. Overall though, India has 30 languages spoken by 1 million or more people and 22 of these are official languages. Wealth disparity can be a critical issue, but it can also apply as an advantage for some countries wishing to enter the Indian market or to use it as a springboard into other markets.

Ukraine and Russia

About 260 million people speak Russian as their native or as a secondary language. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is still frequently spoken in Ukraine (over 14 million), Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, and by over 1 million Israelis, too. Ukrainian has logically become the main official language of Ukraine and is itself spoken by over 40 million.

Israel has a special relationship with Ukraine. Israel’s demand for IT specialists is matched by Ukraine’s focus on exporting IT services. For most software development requirements, Israeli companies can augment their team with two Ukrainian developers for the fully loaded cost of one local developer.

Many Israeli companies hesitate to outsource development, but that could be holding them back – even in terms of developing their own team leaders and engineering managers. Ukrainian developers are highly rated, #2 on value and #5 on technical skills, globally. But, on top of that, working with Ukrainian software developers also enables you to cost-effectively expand the launch of your software to markets with over 300 million people.

Business planning for app localization

Every business has its own budget not just for software development, but marketing and advertising, operations, etc. It’s normal and natural to keep business plans focused on the markets you know best. What stands out, however, is looking at your software in terms of what types of companies and end-users could benefit from it. Once you have a software product, you have a variety of options for monetizing it beyond your own use:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • White label products – direct sale or lease of the license, fee per use royalties, etc.
  • Partnerships or Software Development IP Joint Ventures

We can take the case of Opera Mobile Store as a platform for distributing mobile apps, being licensed as a white label product to Yandex. While it’s necessary to safeguard your intellectual property, you have the potential to be a technology partner to all manner of businesses lacking their own software development teams. The only questions are a) how much you want to prioritize software development as part of your business, b) how closely you want to work with other businesses, and C) how long you want the business arrangement to last.

Companies like Amazon, Google, Uber, etc., focus heavily on acquiring market share, even at the expense of profits. That makes it hard for SMBs and startups to compete for lacking the resources to do so globally. Part of the solution is simply to look at the different ways you can partner with other businesses. Though your startup may not have the capacity to launch and operate in a particular country – if it has the capacity to localize its software, it has the capacity to partner with another company that does.

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