Mozilla frees web browser from mobile language limitations: A Q&A

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 12.55.33 PM

I was intrigued to read recently that Mozilla is working on updating the Firefox Android mobile browser, codename Fennec, to allow the browser to offer more languages than the underlying Android system currently supports. Typically, apps leverage language support from the underlying operating system, which can sometimes be limiting. So it’s nice to see Mozilla moving beyond this limitation.

To learn more, I asked Mozilla localization engineer Jeff Beatty a few questions. Here’s what he had to say.

Q: With Fennec, Mozilla is effectively freeing the web browser from the language restrictions of the underlying Android OS. Can you detail roughly how many language Android supports vs. the number of languages Fennec will support?

A: This can be a complicated question, because language support is often very broadly defined. What traditionally determines if an app can be localized in the Android OS is the number of languages the OS itself is localized into. Excluding region codes, the Android source code indicates that Google localizes Android into 46 languages. Device manufacturers will often expand that to upwards of 85 languages. Essentially, any Android device can have localizations for between 46 and approximately 85 languages.

By allowing for language switching within the Firefox for Android browser, we’re able to allow users to select from languages that are not offered on their Android device. There are about 16 volunteer Mozilla localization teams who have translated strings for the browser, but have been unable to see their localizations delivered to Firefox users through the Google Play store. Of these, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Basque, Fulah, and Armenian are on the roadmap to be shipped with the language switching feature in Firefox 32.

Q: How are these additional languages supported by the browser? Specifically, is the language data included in the original install or will data be pulled from the server if the user switches to a language not supported by Android?

A: The language data is included in a multi-locale APK delivered through the Google Play store.

Q: Are there any other localization/culture data dependencies on Android that have proved challenging when it comes to supporting non-Android languages?

A: Absolutely. The language switching piece places us in the right direction, but we’re now confronted with localization issues we haven’t had to encounter before. The benefit of shipping Android-supported languages is that you rarely have to worry about issues with character rendering, Unicode-enabled fonts, ISO locale code support, or in-app region-specific customizations. Now we need to ensure that each of these locales are thoroughly tested for these issues and determine what we can feasibly do to not only support the languages, but also ensure that memory consumption remains low and performance remains high for all users.

Q: Do you have other operating systems planned for this model? For instance, there would be an even greater disparity on iOS that Fennec will address.

A: There are no plans to expand Fennec to ship on iOS. The Flame developer reference phone allows us more freedom to experiment with languages that have never been tested on devices before (like Fulah, certain Indic languages, and indigenous languages in Mexico, for instance). All of these have active localizers and some have even already been using Firefox OS in their language unofficially on localized test / developer builds of Firefox OS.

Q: Finally, was this feature something asked for by users? Do you have any usage data that illustrates demand for a given language/locale that you are now able to support?

A: Users and our volunteer localization community were the primary drivers behind the demand for this feature. Since language coverage is a primary concern for the localization team, we are preparing to meet that demand.

To learn more…

https://blog.mozilla.org/l10n/2014/05/20/language-switching-in-fennec/

 

 

 

WhatsApp: Another “translation worthy” success story

I wrote recently that if you can make your product “translation worthy” the world will follow.

Reading about Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp I went back and did some language crunching.

WhatsApp Arabic

In December 2012, WhatsApp supported 15 languages. I also noted then that I really liked the company’s global gateway.

WhatsApp Language Growth

Today, WhatsApp supports 35 languages — thanks in large part (or entirely) to a crowd of volunteer translators.

WhatsApp crowdsourcing

This number of languages is now well above the average number of languages tracked in the Web Globalization Report Card.

Clearly, WhatsApp proved itself to be translation worthy.

And now, with Facebook involved, I would not be surprised to see WhatsApp double its language count over the next year or two. Perhaps WhatsApp will actually start paying for translation now…

 

Make your product “translation worthy” and the world will follow

From my guest post for Gigaom:

When a software company asks me if I think its new product will succeed globally, I typically respond by asking: Is your product translation worthy? In other words, are people eager to voluntary translate your app or website into their language?

This phenomenon is commonly known as “translation crowdsourcing,” and a number of familiar names have relied on the kindness of strangers to take their products and websites global—companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. When a website or software application is so appealing to users around the world that they will help translate it—for free—the odds are quite good that the product will succeed globally.

Link

Counting in Tongues

HTML has long supported the ability to create numbered lists simply by using the <ol><li></li></ol> tags.

But these tags are rather limited if you are developing websites for the world. How, for example, do you support Asian numbering systems?

That’s what the proposed specification CSS Counter Styles Level 3 is intended to address (among other things).

Richard Ishida has created a nifty demo that relies on this feature to dynamically convert between numbering systems.

Number Converter

What’s interesting about the proposed specification is  that web developers can rely on predefined counter styles but can also create their own custom counters.

 

 

So what if the icons are ugly, iOS 7 now supports Tamil

ciao

So I just spent an hour upgrading my iPhone to iOS 7.

My first thought was: Boy, these icons are ugly.

And there’s this strange mix of text-only buttons and visual buttons. Some of the apps feel like a step backwards, like Calendar. It all feels a bit rushed. Like the folks at top were so eager to launch something “new” that they didn’t give enough thought to why they were making some of the changes they made.

But this post isn’t about what I think about the design. I’m stuck with it, for now at least.

This post is about what global improvements Apple has made to iOS 7.

And there are a few positives to highlight.

Let’s start with the welcome screen when you see on first use. In iOS 6, only the swipe screen iterated between languages. In iOS 7, the languages are now front and center, which is  nice to see. This austere welcome page conveys the enthusiasm that Apple has for welcoming users from around the world. And I think it’s cool to highlight the supported languages, even if most users will only ever use one language.

iOS7 multilingual

As an aside, you don’t see any flags here do you? No flags at all in the operating system, which contrasts with the Apple website. It’s just a matter of time before Apple abandons flags on its website as well (or so I’ve long hoped!).

I also want to highlight the new keyboard input and dictionary support for Tamil.

tamil

Apple supports two types of Tamil inputs — Tamil99, which is the officially approved input keyboard, (shown above) and an Anjal keyboard, which provides a phonetic input.

Finally, here are a few additional improvements for China, which is now Apple’s second-largest market.

  • Tencent Weibo social network integration.
  • Chinese-English bilingual dictionary.
  • Improved Chinese input including T9 keyboard for pinyin; handwriting recognition for multiple Chinese characters.

Overall, there’s nothing truly groundbreaking here, just slow and steady improvements.

 

 

 

WhatsApp gets global navigation right

I’ll admit I knew nothing about WhatsApp before I read that Facebook was about to buy the company (or not).

So I went to its website and was pleasantly surprised to see a simple but effective global gateway.

Let’s start with the use of the globe icon:

Nicely located. Simple. And when you click on it you get an equally efficient menu:

And WhatsApp uses language detection (also known as content negotiation) to detect your web browser’s language and respond in kind.

Shown here is what my browser (set to Spanish) sees:

It’s wonderful to see start-up companies get navigation right so early on.

It bodes well for global expansion, which this company appears to be doing quite rapidly as well.