[This article originally was published November 21, 2104 in TechZone360.]
What would you do if your smartwatch informed you that it was “timing for the dinner?” Or if your connected car took you to the intersection of Fourth and Connaught instead of the Marriott like you told it? Chances are you’d throw your smartwatch out the window or have someone look at the wiring of your connected car.
In the new age of the Internet of Things (IOT), we expect devices to understand us flawlessly. Any brand or business involved with the IOT must take pains to make content invisible and eliminate language barriers. Otherwise that smartwatch gets a one-star review or your brand image is associated with ignorance—the entire economy around your IOT efforts breaks down. That’s why today, translation and localization are more pervasive and important than ever.
The Babel Fish of Things?
If there’s a continuous theme around the X.8 releases coming out by players like Apple, Microsoft and Drupal, it’s language. Last week, the world found out that iOS 8 lets you set preferred languages that apps will default to. Skype Translator is slated for beta in Windows 8, meaning users will soon be able to hear real-time voice translations during their Skype calls. Improving the multilingual capability of Drupal was among the top four key initiatives for Drupal 8, set to be released shortly.
Why focus on translation when brands have things like mobile UIs and the Internet of Things (IOT) to worry about? In fact, that’s precisely why you should focus on translation. Online revenue predominantly comes from small screens. One survey of 14,000 global internet users found that mobile has a greater influence on purchasing decisions than TV or online content, and that mobile ads “drive purchase intent … for (generally) a majority of respondents.”
If a desktop-only website hinders sales, an English-only desktop site is exponentially worse. Of the $50 trillion in global consumer spending power, English speakers only represent one-third, according to Common Sense Advisory. It takes 48 languages to reach 98 percent of online users, yet 75 percent of Internet users only make important purchasing decisions when a product is described in a language they speak.
No wonder Fortune 500 companies with larger translation budgets were 1.5 times more likely than their peers to report increased revenue. It also explains why the really big global players have prioritized translation on a massive scale. PayPal is in more than 200 global markets. Microsoft products come in more than 90 languages and Apple in 40.
Language and the Internet of Things
If every technology designed in America worked only in English, companies like Apple and Google would be cutting themselves out of most of the global market. The Internet of Things, with its varying screen sizes, communication types and UIs, is only adding pressure.
The IoT is the final bridge between the online and offline worlds. In the future, there will be no such thing as “being online”—the objects around you will automatically stay online. Between smart homes, wearables, connected cars and near-field communication, the online experience will enhance everything from food selection to productivity.
Accurate Content Reigns Supreme
Brands must find a way to fit their content into this schema, and that means concise, accurate communication with end users. If inauthentic tweets today foster skepticism, imagine where an inauthentic-sounding smartwatch will end up.
Confusing users with vague or inaccurate content isn’t an option unless you want your brand to drop out of the global race. The IOT is concealing content in tiny user interfaces and voice-driven instructions, essentially making it invisible. The language barrier, too, must become a non-issue otherwise economies driven by the IOT won’t work.
In the not-too-distant future, you’ll give voice commands to an army of personal and public devices, and they’ll understand regardless of language. Travelers will book smart homes that speak their language through AirBnB or VRBO. You might flag down a self-driving taxi in China that will understand English. An Apple iBeacon near-field communication device might push discounted game tickets to your smartwatch as you drive by your local stadium, and you’ll voice-command your connected car to book them, and it will confirm—all in Spanish, your chosen language. If any of the devices involved can’t understand more than one language, the entire system breaks down.
Global by Default
Like the planet itself, the Internet of Things must accommodate many languages and cultures. Remaining insular isn’t an option. Translation becomes less a matter of convenience and more an urgent necessity. As companies large and small are now realizing, embedded, automated online translation is at the core of the online future.
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