Three Tips for Watch App Localization

Starting April 24, Apple Watch will be available in nine countries. With Android Wear available in 13, translation is as essential to your watch app’s success as it is for mobile. While wearables localization is as new and developing as wearables themselves, we already have three important tips for you.

Think about Display

Whether you’re designing for Droid Wear or Apple Watch, the face size is much smaller than a phone’s screen size. Compared to the iPhone 6 at 4.7” or 5.5”, the Apple Watch only has a display size of 38 or 42 mm. This means you’re simply not going to be able to get as much text on the screen at the same time as you can with a mobile app.

In character-based languages like Traditional Chinese, a small slash can completely change the meaning. So with Apple Watch for sale in Japan, China, and Hong Kong, this means you must plan for the font in your design to be larger than it is for English. You may need to shorten what you say or leave things out to keep users from having to swipe more than necessary, or even better: Elect to use fewer words or rely on images entirely.

For Android Wear this gets even harder as face size is not the only issue: Face shapes with both square and round versions are available. Some Japanese translations (depending on the context) read up to down instead of from left to right like English does. This, too, can limit how much copy can be displayed.

Don’t Forget Voice Activation

While Android Wear is a much more voice-dependent wearable than Apple Watch, both devices do rely on voice commands. When localizing watch apps, don’t just think of the written word. Think of the spoken word as well. A user in Spain who views his watch app in Spanish is also going to speak to it in Spanish. With 20+ Spanish dialects in the world, make sure your app recognizes the many accents your users will use to speak to it.

Translation Memory Is More Important for Android than Apple

Translation memory is software that professional translators work with to remember which words you use. We do this to lower the price for you (words repeated in the same context should cost you less) and also to improve consistency for your user. For example, say you have an exercise app. Translation memory helps us use the word run consistently instead of sometimes saying run and sometimes saying jog.

The reason translation memory is more important for Android Wear than Apple Watch is how the two different operating systems handle notifications. Andoid Wear pretty much requires users to access your app through a notification or a voice command. Apple Watch apps, though, are accessed more through the home screen.

For Andoid Wear app localization, your translation must be even more consistent across the entire experience. At this stage in wearables adoption, both Apple and Android watches are being sold to early adaptors who live very busy lives. If the language the notification uses is not consistent enough for your users to immediately connect it to your app, you’ve got a problem.

People are buying these watches because they want to save the time it takes to pull their phone out of their pocket. Someone who doesn’t have half a second to pull their own phone out of their pants pocket does not have the desire to think twice about your notification. Inconsistency slows the process down and makes the app harder to use, which means lower user engagement for you.

About Terena Bell

Terena Bell is CEO of In Every Language, a Smartling translation partner. She currently sits on the White House Business Roundtable and writes a monthly column for MultiLingual Magazine on the impact of societal macroforces on the translation industry. Terena is former Secretary of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) and a former Association of Language Companies (ALC) board member. She tweets at @InEveryLanguage.