Distimo: app translation can pay off, especially in Asia

Developers are becoming more aware of the opportunities in distributing their apps internationally. But new data from app analytics firm Distimo show just how important it can be, especially in China, Japan and South Korea, where apps in the local language perform better.

That might sound obvious, but in general, iPhone and iPad (s aapl) apps in English are the most widely downloaded and bring in the most money across the top 12 markets in the world. More than 90 percent of free downloads and revenue generated in the top 200 iPhone and iPad apps in the Apple App Store in the 12 largest countries support English.

But outside of English-speaking countries, China, Japan and South Korea have the highest proportions of free downloads and revenue from native language-only applications. Distimo found that among the top 12 markets, apps that serve English dominate all of the markets for downloads of the top 200 free apps except in China, where Chinese language apps are slightly more popular. In terms of revenue for those same markets, English is the top language for apps in the top markets except in China, Japan and South Korea.


That makes these Asian countries a ripe opportunity for developers who put the work into translating their apps. Of course, there are cultural differences and marketing strategies at play and just localizing the language doesn’t guarantee success. But these markets prize localization more than the rest of the world. That may because their languages are not based on the Latin alphabet, which makes it harder for locals to decipher an English-only app.

Distimo also looked at the immediate impact of translating an app. It followed 200 iPhone apps that introduced local language support in a market in August and charted their growth. In the week after introducing local language support through an app update, the apps enjoyed a 128 percent boost in downloads and a 26 percent increase in revenue the following week. It’s unclear how much of that is due exactly to local language translation because apps tend to get some kind of a boost after an update. But the results suggest the apps did see a nice bump from going local.


Distimo found that China and Japan, in particular, had the the highest improvement in terms of total downloads following the introduction of local language support. And China and South Korea were among the top countries that saw a boost in revenue. Adding local language support for updated iPad apps, however, had no impact on downloads and only contributed to a 5 percent increase in revenue.

Overall, it’s interesting to see how much some countries will download apps that are not distributed in their native language. In Brazil, the top two languages for downloads and revenue are English and Spanish, even though Portugese is the main language. And in Brazil, Italy and Russia, more than half of the most downloaded apps don’t support the local language at all. That may suggest that these markets can be targeted without localizing language support. But it might also provide an opportunity to generate more downloads and revenue by translating an app for local users.


As we’ve written before, there are opportunities in going global with mobile apps. When combining this data with how much it costs to acquire users in certain markets and what the relative return on investment is per app user, you can see that there can be a payoff in translating an app. Chartboost last week shared how Japan, South Korea and Thailand have lower cost-per-install costs for app developers than many western markets. Again, localizing an app doesn’t mean instant success and it’s not exactly easy. But with translation services like Smartling and others around, there’s less excuse not to translate an app.