Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Localising a smartphone application – an amusing case study

Smartphone Localisation

We have a lot to thank Apple, Samsung, HTC, Blackberry, Nokia (to a degree) for. What is it that these companies have given us? Well it is the manner in which our interaction has improved over the years. The devices that these companies are developing (and developed already) have enabled us to enhance our communication levels with not only people we know but with those we do not. Now most of these devices are smartphones and tablets which have enhanced the consumption of data in terms of their connectivity to the Internet.

People are engaging with one another in a seamless way, oblivious to the notion of how we were operating before they entered our lives. But we are not complaining. Smartphones have taken advantage of the decreasing cost of the Internet and are now powerful enough to conduct a series of tasks.

This has led to a huge increase in businesses targeting the mobile space. Not surprisingly businesses have been trying to reap maximum exposure of the usage of mobiles and with the consumption of data being done from all parts of the world it is no surprise that they have been thinking of a global strategy.

A global strategy involves businesses catering with a translated version of the application or a website. Now this is where it gets interesting. A lot of businesses think that all they have to go is go on Google Translate and translate the text and copy and paste and upload it on a new site and that’s it, a translated version is ready. This strategy has had some dire consequences with some famous brands such as Pepsi, McDonalds and Coca Cola not realising until the time is too late. People are a sensitive bunch and reading some things which are not adequately translated can in some cases serious offence.

Personally I was involved in a project which was very much a damage repair situation. It was a global airline carrier who had spent a large budget developing an app for the Android and Apple platform. They had spent a lot of development time and used a language translator tool after being advised by their internal projects management team. The apps were tested and worked fine, actually great. As their customers were all over the world they decided to launch the app in different languages, a move which they thought will enhance their reputation in the eyes of their customers. The process involved was to save time in getting the translations done and seeing as the company is not named I can mention what actually was the problem.

Now in marketing terms the app included the phrase: “go see your friends”. It showed up in the French version of the app as : “aller tuer vos am " which means “go kill your friends”. With a family oriented application it is no surprise that such phrases were not taken too well.

Smartphone Localisation

The whole app was riddled with linguistic problems and French was not the only language that was affected. The team spent a long time getting translations being done for the Arabic language , well not getting the actual translations done but in the formatting of the text in the embedded code. This time it was slightly amusing as the translation which was done was on the page explaining how good the inflight food was. In Arabic the text describing the food was translated as “this food is horrible” and “NOT edible”.

Using a language translator tool would be good for people who are tourists and for general phrases (which are no longer than 10 words). However these free tools get a bit lost when dealing with longer phrases.

The advantages with smartphones and their usage can also be a disadvantage for organisations and businesses. With the demand for data at the touch of a few clicks it is now ever more important that care is taken when going global however it still is something that can be extremely powerful especially to reach the masses. English is not a language that is spoken by everyone who owns a smartphone.

Just for clarity I am happy to say that the airline carrier was offered professional translation services which helped fix the problem of the website but how many people were put off by wrong use of language I do not know. What I do know is that they have revised their mobile marketing strategy going forward.

Author: Rehan Sajid is extremely interested in the way the internet operates and the manner in which businesses can ease themselves into the international markets. Whilst being a web enthusiast he also enjoys his sports along with travelling the world – when he gets a chance.