Technology is integrating deeper into our lives, and our wardrobe as well. Whether it’s smart glasses, watches, earpieces or full body suits, wearables are here to stay. Today, businesses continue to iterate on these technologies to find the right market fit.
A big challenge in wearable technology localization is getting the technology to work on a global level. With some countries not allowing products with unsupported languages, and non-english speaking consumers being alienated, how can a technology company develop a global friendly wearable?
As with every product you want to make global friendly, localization is the key. Enabling a wearable device to work with different languages, accents, and conditions can be a make or break for a product.
How does wearable technology localization work in a world where the interface of the technologies are continuously evolving towards speech and natural interaction rather than text and type?
Wearable Technology Localization
Localizing takes a lot more than just changing a language when we think beyond text. This could include aspects of user preference, interactive text, speech and motion, and the overall usability of the wearable.
Demographic Preference Research
There are low amounts of data for consumer preferences on wearable devices. Especially when we take varying regions under consideration. Think about how different cultures place commands and respond to voices & tones.
An outcome of our research found that preference of voice gender varied per user. A masculine voice is commonly associated with authority, and may work better as a voice coach in cultures that desire a more authoritative voice. On the other hand, a feminine voice is often associated with comfort, which could be more motivational in a different geographic region.
“Fluff” is also a subjective value in each culture. Some people enjoy when a voice assistant asks “How are you?”, or motivationally says “Are you ready for today?”, we found that North American consumers enjoyed the more intimate interactions, but the surveyed German consumers preferred straight-forward interaction.
Trends today also concern the preference of text message or audio messaging. Chinese consumers have a preference for voice messaging as it is simpler, quicker and more personal than typing. This could mean a decreased barrier to entry and more receptive market, if the product is ready for the Chinese market.
Demographics will have varying tastes, and researching these differences ensures that the wearable you release is appropriate for the market it’s releasing to. It’s difficult to find out what the optimal route is since the technology is all new, and there has yet to be a best case for every aspect of it. Often, creating new data by surveying target demographics will aid a team greatly in creating a perfect device.
Strings & Speech
Strings are any text in software that is read as text, and not a number or computational operation.
The basics of wearable technology localization start with translating strings to their appropriate language. On a phone application, translation needs to be carefully done to avoid truncation. Spacing and length of words and characters vary between languages. More care and attention is needed for wearable technology localization, as there are more limitations.
An iPhone 6 screen is 5.5”, an Apple Watch’s screen is 1.5” to 1.65”. Less screen real estate means less space for text, and now the application is being localized to both the new language, and specifically adjusted for the screen size.
The change in screen size makes truncation a more important topic, and leads to changing how words is used to communicate similar ideas from the smartphone app to the smartwatch app.
This could be use of different terminology, like changing “heart rate” to “bpm.” That simple change is a difference of 7 characters. In different languages where words may extend longer, the translators need to get creative in use of terms and their synonyms. This limitation is one of the driving factors of “iconization” where we see less text and more icons in our user interfaces. The icons that digital technology brought to our lives seem to be pretty universal for the most part, which simplifies wearable technology localization.
Wearables often use voice as the main, or supporting, communication tool with the user. A sports wearable headset can have many different lines recorded with a virtual coach.
This coach does a few things, including prompting you to take a drink, responding when you ask for your heart rate, and telling you how far you’ve ran. The coach requires a database of sentences to be created so it understands what the user is saying. This database requires different considerations.
Some sentences may be too long for a runner to reasonably say during their exercise, as it interferes with their breathing. This may prove more difficult in different languages as word & sentence lengths vary.
The same commands could be spoken in different ways. “What is my heart rate?” and “What is my bpm?” would prompt the same answer. Different languages might have more ways to say the same thing.
These variations make ranking voice commands an important part of the localization and voice data collection process.
For example, “What is my heart rate?” would hold a higher rank than “How fast is my heart beating?” both would lead to the same answer, but the first would be a more common way to ask. A user friendly device requires a lot of research and development to get this interaction right. Does your device have a persona? Can you get away with the same persona in China and Canada?
Issues, like the previously mentioned UI defects, may occur during the localization process. This is why QA testers are needed for each step of the translation quality assurance process.
It’s one thing if your product matches the requirements, it’s another how it will behave under daily use conditions on the arms, heads, legs of your users (we are talking wearables, right?). Field testing is an essential part of any wearable device and should not be taken lightly. A common misconception is skipping the field testing for localization if the device passed the field tests in its original language with flying colors. This assumption ignores the fact that the GPS signal, noise conditions, people’s behavior, the speed of driving, essentially everything, will be different from one country to another.
If you want your wearable to travel gracefully across cultures, you want to get your technology evaluated with real users on the ground and in the field to avoid unexpected surprises once you hit the market in a new geography.
Wearable technology localization is the logical step in ensuring that your product is adoptable anywhere in the world. Whether it’s a smartwatch, smart glasses, or the next big thing, being accessible by your market is crucial to success.