The market for Android apps is global, and the early problem of many countries being restricted from download access is disappearing rapidly. This means you have an opportunity to expand the reach of your Android apps into many new markets.

However, with globalization comes the issue of localization — that is, making apps accessible to languages and cultures that differ from you. Reaching a new market with only minor modifications to an existing app could be much cheaper than building an entirely new app. Some factors to consider before you start localizing your Android app are:

  • The impact of each localization isn’t necessarily linear, so don’t expect the exact same level of engagement in new markets, even after translating into the local language.
  • App adoption can be greatly affected by culture.
  • Ad networks may have different ads to fill in that region.
  • Some markets may have different buying habits for paid apps. For example, some markets in Asia are known to be much tougher to sell paid apps in, but free games see a huge amount of traffic.

In this post, I’ll focus on the specifics of the costs of localizing and tips on evaluating which languages and regions to target.

Costs for localizing

The cost to localize an app can be greatly reduced by planning ahead and storing language-specific strings in resource files rather than directly in the code. (Read about preparing to support multiple languages in your Android apps and seeing the documentation from the Android team.) Even if the initial release of an app is only localized to the language you speak, this preparation will save a lot of work later, and it will help in estimating the costs to translate the app (many translation services charge by the word, so having the strings in a separate XML will make it easy to estimate this cost).

Prices for translation services vary, but to give you an idea an app with just 100 words to translate could start at around $10 (more if proofreading or independent verification is required). You should keep in mind that many apps have many more words than that — and don’t forget the description text. In addition, this cost will be duplicated for each language you want.

In-house or friend-sourced translations can lower the cost for some translations, which might make those languages a good place to start. Automatic translations are often not recommended because the results aren’t always completely accurate. If you use automatic translations, you should use them with caution.

Some apps will need to deal with additional issues, such as currency, distance units, and other region-specific factors. For some of these issues, new code will need to be written because the solution won’t be as simple as swapping in new values.

Evaluate each language

At first glance, the language options for apps in Google Play (Figure A) might look like a checklist to complete, but the costs to localize often means that choices need to be made. The cost for each localization effort may vary, and the results will not be identical; this can make it harder to prioritize which languages and regions to target, especially if you don’t have prior knowledge of the region. A good place to start is researching the sheer number of users for a particular language.
Figure A

Language options for apps in Google Play. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Once your app is published, you can see the statistics showing the language breakdown for your app, for all apps in your category, and for the top 10 apps in your category. Chances are, an untranslated app will have a majority of users in the native language. You should select one of the top languages in the category that is not well-represented for your app — this could be an opportunity to localize and gain new customers.