Feature Article

January 16, 2013

Worldwide Smartphone Growth Spurs Demand in Language Services

Smartphone sales are increasing, but many of their new users speak languages other than English, which is causing an increased demand in language services.

“The need for language-related services in the mobile channel is literally skyrocketing," said Hans Fenstermacher, CEO of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA). "Marketers can't just rely on the technology itself. They also need to reach local audiences in languages they understand.”

Smartphone sales are expected by Deloitte to reach one billion this year. This will raise the number of worldwide smartphone users to nearly two billion.

Gartner predicted that mobile advertising sales would reach $7.5 billion worldwide – a jump of 1300 percent from $530.2 million in 2008. Gartner also predicts the number of smartphone app development projects to outnumber desktop projects by four to one by 2015.

"Mobile usage trends point to significant, if not unprecedented, growth opportunities for the language sector," Fenstermacher said. "To be successful in a given country, smartphone applications, advertisements and other types of communication must look and sound like they're coming from someone right next door, not from somewhere clear across the globe."

Sophisticated translation tools are no match for human beings who understand nuances in language, as anyone who’s ever used Babel Fish or Google Translate has no doubt experienced.

"Mobile telephony is all about giving you immediate and personalized access to the kinds of information you need and want. So is the translation and language services industry," Fenstermacher added.

One example of an attempt at smartphone-based translation is Japanese carrier NTT Docomo’s launching of the first commercial mobile translation service, which translates both conversations and signage, launched in November of last year.

 It can translate foreign menus and signs simply by using a smartphone camera. The app can also translate face-to-face conversations using the speakerphone feature of the device.

The application will be free, but NTT Docomo will charge for the actual translation services.

Edited by Braden Becker

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