The introduction of the first smartphone by Apple in 2007 has changed the digital world in ways that no one could have imagined. In the past seven years the world of mobile communications has changed forever. Hundreds of new innovations have been released, thousands of new smartphones are introduced, and App Stores nowadays are populated with millions of apps. But although smartphones and apps are increasingly popular, until now there have only been a few apps that dominated the market for longer than a few years. The huge growth of apps has created opportunities for translation and localization experts as well but there are dangers lurking.
Who remembers the apps that were enormously popular a few years ago? And who remembers the success stories of young app developers who became millionaires in a few weeks? Chances are big that you don’t: since Angry Birds hundreds of thousands of new games have been introduced. And since 15-year-old developer Nick d’Aloisio received $30 million in a round of venture capital, new talents have already come into play.
The market of smartphones and apps is a billion dollar market. However, only the best apps will survive and receive funding. For many other enthusiasts there is only a small piece of the cake to share. Their margin often is thin and they cannot afford big investments in app localization. They therefore seek other means to sell their apps to a global market in a local language. This article defines four trends that are currently emerging to address this problem.
Cheap machine translations
Localizing an app can be an expensive matter, particularly when returns on investment aren’t guaranteed. App developers learn from their community that localizing an app is affordable and that localized apps attract new clients. To avoid huge costs and the risk that those investments never pay back developers often rely on cheap or even free machine translations: app strings are put in Google Translate and similar tools and their immediate output is pasted in the relevant source file. This is time consuming but free. And hey, there are so many app developers who do the same and Google Translate is pretty good, so success will come soon, won’t it?
Online app localization
App developers often are real code fanatics. In their search to cut prices on localizing their apps they sometimes develop their own translation environments, and sometimes even CAT tools on their own. App localizers then will work in the online environment and translated segments will be quickly converted to app strings. In this way app developers cut the overhead costs associated with translation agencies. To cut the costs even further they often rely on the translator only, rather than investing in a reviewer. This sometimes has negative implications: apps can be translated in a sloppy fashion and typos will often not be discovered.
An alternative to this approach is the outsourcing of app localizations to another online localization platform. In many cases new file formats for app strings cannot be translated with conventional and traditional CAT tools. Online developers dive into that gap and develop online solutions which combine the logic of a CAT tool with the technology of web 2.0 and underpinning technologies. The result: a cheap, fast and easily extendable online platform that offers low cost translations that can be used in apps quickly.
Professional machine translations
An alternative to cheap machine translation and the high costs of traditional app localization is the use of professional machine translations where “professional” refers to the use of sophisticated technologies and expensive algorithms that return a qualitative output. This approach is mainly used by developers of popular apps who already have a database with thousands to millions of app strings and by those who want to start slowly but nevertheless rely on qualitative translations. In some cases the app developers is still chosen for post-machine editing but that is not always the case.
One caveat to this approach is the use of one general translation memory for all applications: Apple and Android will then have the same translations although their language conventions differ enormously. And when people using computers are instructed to “tap” their old computer screens though they don’t even support touch technology, machine translation has obviously missed the mark.
A new approach I recently discovered was the “quick update approach”. I started translating an app and after one day of translating I had already found my strings in the freshly installed app. The app developers generated a localized string file and updated the app although not even 5% of the total strings were translated. It seemed a conscious choice.
By introducing the localized versions at an early stage app developers try to attract an international audience earlier. Because a big part of the world at least understands common English terms app developers don’t worry that apps are not understandable. And, in fact, the continuous introduction of newly localized texts shows at least that they are making progress.
Threats and opportunities
Let’s take stock. Besides the “traditional” app localizations in terms of app strings and CAT tools new approaches have been introduced, which are discussed in this blog post. All these new developments can seem dangerous to the old and established translator. And indeed the use of publicly available translation engines can pose a danger in terms of workload and earnings. Generally speaking, however, the best apps are localized by humans. Only cheaper and less popular apps are likely to use machine translated texts. In the future more app developers will rely on professional machine translations but those often need to be post-edited. App translators therefore can anticipate the market by investing in knowledge of post-editing. The trend for early releases is vague and perhaps it will never get off the ground. The idea and technologies behind it are interesting though and can make app localization even faster and more demanding. But that offers opportunities for localizers.
The keywords for professionals in the localization industry are anticipation and knowledge. Learning now will let you keep pace with current and future trends. Don’t get distracted by companies that will not invest in qualitative texts. Sooner or later they will either go out of business or see the worth of good translations. Then it’s your chance.