June 2017
By Rebecca Ray

Image: © Shao-Chun Wang/123rf.com

Rebecca Ray is a senior analyst at independent market research firm Common Sense Advisory. Rebecca's primary focus is enterprise globalization, social media, multilingual SEO, and global product development. A former Rotarian Scholar and Silicon Valley veteran, Rebecca co-authored a book for global high-tech companies on doing business in the US. Based in Turkey, she has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. Rebecca is fluent in English, French, and Spanish, and proficient in Portuguese and Turkish.

Twitter: @CSA_Research, @globalizediva



Get ready for multilingual wearables!

Approximately 325 million wearable devices are connected to the Internet, with more added every day. While the iPhone and Android platforms were designed as multilingual from the start, that isn't always the case for wearables. This gives localization teams the opportunity to offer their multilingual expertise early in the design and development phases for these products.

Wearables are articles of clothing, footwear, or accessories that incorporate sensors to enable the items to monitor and respond to the environment or the wearer. They also send and receive data from other devices such as smartphones. The wearables sector is still in its infancy – not even futurists or designers of the current generation of wearable technology can predict what product or use case may eventually allow this sector to become as ubiquitous as smartphones – or if this will ever happen. Even so, localization teams should anticipate the day when product managers start requesting support for wearables apps and devices. They will have to deal with new formats and use cases:

  • Form factors. Examples of products that fit on the wrist, or that can be clipped on, include fitness trackers from companies such as Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, Misfit, and Withings, and smartwatches such as Apple Watch, Huawei Watch, and Samsung Gear. Other manufacturers like Bellabeat, Intel, and Ringly produce smart jewelry that handles notifications, checks email, and monitors calls. Healthcare wearables include bands to reduce chronic pain (Quell), devices that deliver back therapy (Valedo), and glucose monitors (FreeStyle Libre). Translation wearables include WordLens for Google Glass. Expect to see new form factors that take advantage of skin, fingers, toes, and ears, as a plethora of products vie for limited real estate on just two wrists.
  • Sample use cases. Though current wearables principally serve as personal assistants to smartphones, applications continue to evolve to encompass more tasks. As people become more comfortable with blending offline and online worlds, wearables will gain in functionality, for example, in manufacturing environments to access data without having to put down a tool or stop a machine. You can already flash fitness tracker wristbands to make payments through American Express. And, developers are reviewing heart rate monitors as key-swipes for building entry authentication.


Wearables plug into the Internet of Things

Wearable items don't exist in a vacuum. Regardless of the category – fitness trackers, clothes, jewelry, and the many form factors yet to be invented – they all have sensors that tether them through software to smartphones or directly to Wi-Fi. So far, the vast majority of them depend on a smartphone for connectivity.

These sensors – activated by touch, movement, sound, or vision – all receive and process data through the network. They join sensors from smart cars, smart houses, smart appliances, and smart machinery to create an environment that interconnects humans, equipment, digital devices, and software – a digital ecosystem now referred to as the Internet of Things or Internet of Everything. Cisco estimates that there will be around 26.3 billion interconnected devices by 2020, which translates to more than 3.5 devices per person on the planet.

Just as smartphone adoption was driven by markets outside of the United States, wearable technology is also a global phenomenon. This means that huge volumes of data spit out by digitally enhanced watches, fitness bands, and jewelry must be rendered to enable users to interact intelligently with them. Part of this intelligence includes being multilingual. Unfortunately, just as with the first websites, standards for the IoT and for wearables are being established without guidance from experts within the localization community.

Enabling wearables multilingually

CSA Research recommends that localizers concentrate on three areas when integrating multilingual content for wearable technology into their workflows: 1) wearable design, 2) testing, and 3) sharing their expertise inside and outside of their companies.

1. Wearable designers need you

Global launch schedules no longer allow a cleanup phase for reactive fixes during localization. Therefore, the wearable experience must be world-ready. It represents one more "screen" in your customers' multi-screen experience, even if the form factor includes no screen. Your designers need all the help they can get as they learn how to transpose – not transfer – a satisfying user experience to a large variety of form factors that differ substantially from desktop and mobile screens.

The design challenge for technology-enhanced clothing and medical sensors includes playing well with streaming data from another device connected to the Internet. Designers talk about "contextual information", in the sense that what users do or output on the desktop, phone, or tablet should be available when they switch over to a wearable to continue what they started. It may be up to your team, in collaboration with product managers and international marketers, to define what's required throughout the customer experience to win local user acceptance.

Here's what to watch out for as your team ramps up to support product designers:

  • Wearables are about a lot more than technology. Partnerships will grow as technology companies recognize the need for design input from people who can already interpret trends for clothing, shoes, and jewelry. Because connected clothing and accessories are intended to complement the rest of what a person wears, the device's style is just as important as – if not more important than – how well the technology performs. For example, high-tech companies are learning that women prefer jewelry to be stylish and unobtrusive, even when digitally inspired.
  • Tighten your seatbelts for rapid iteration and innovation cycles. Because the wearables space is in its earliest stage, your designers and developers will experiment a lot. The same applies to the devices and apps that wearables will integrate with. Don't be surprised as form factors converge. For example, wearables and payment systems will enable users to pay for Uber rides with fitness bands or connected cocktail rings.
  • Automate and Agile-ize localization processes. If you haven't already done so, optimize workflow and address technology gaps. Roles for some of your team members and your LSP may evolve. Make sure that design and development schedules allow for international markets to get their hands on early versions.
  • Educate colleagues to create minimal content in small, logical pieces. Teach product managers, marketers, designers, and content creators to use the fewest number of characters, images, and audio clips possible when building a wearable and the user experience surrounding it.
  • Prepare for vocal users in more places. Wearable apps will bring out the social in your customers. Support developers in embedding analytics capabilities and easy feedback mechanisms into wearable technology. Your company will probably need to engage via more social platforms and start monitoring product feedback on domestic and international retail and social sites. That's because people who buy wearable technology usually take advantage of more outlets to express their opinions, including sites such as Amazon and Walmart. The list will mushroom as more brands embed sensors in their products.
  • Monitor developments for improved integration of voice and wearables. Work is progressing in the "earables" or "hearables" category to build small, independent devices for use in our ears, as well as to integrate enhanced voice capabilities in other form factors. Applications such as Google Voice, Apple Siri, and Microsoft Cortana are already available in numerous languages, so earables will be multilingual from day one. The time is approaching when it will be possible to translate spoken language through these earables or through built-in speakers in smartglasses. If you have never localized audio before, your team will need to prepare.

2. Testing for localized wearables requires creativity

Localization teams that have experience supporting Agile and mobile projects will face new challenges as they integrate testing for wearable technology. You must focus more on interoperability testing and what real users will do with your wearable devices and apps.

  • Test with real users in the real world. Aim for common and extreme locations in your most important markets. Have people test real-life battery usage while running multiple apps and services at once under different networks. Try out competitor apps and devices in parallel, and test with older, localized operating systems. Vary the environments: for example, test in low-bandwidth areas and cold versus hot weather, if applicable. Find out what happens when your product is in one language but the smartphone or a companion app is in another. Test security and personalization settings in as many markets as possible.
  • Push the limits of interoperability testing. Wearable technology depends on an ecosystem that may vary in subtle ways across international markets. Users won't notice that a failure is due to a smartphone or network issue outside of your control – they will blame your product. Test with localized versions of phones, browsers, operating systems, Wi-Fi, and companion apps if your wearable is intended to interact with them. Customers will invariably try to use your product with devices and applications that you list as non-compatible, or local ones you may not be aware of. Uncover and document as many of these cases as possible to be ready to respond in social media and on support forums.
  • Integrate disconnection as part of the user experience. Work with designers and developers up front to ensure that your wearable, when it suddenly disconnects, fails in a friendly way. Run it through its paces under no network and poor connectivity conditions in local markets to verify that no data is lost.
  • Apply test automation, but in small doses. Keep it simple and focus on the most common use cases. As wearable technology is so new, you will benefit more from people in local markets using your product in ways and under conditions that you never could have imagined.

3. Reserve your seat at the decision-maker's table now

Unlike the controlled development environments fostered by mobile platform providers, the Internet of Things is a broad frontier without a unifying set of laws. Standards for interoperability in the wearables space are still being defined. Language or locale support is one of the gray areas for many wearable development projects. All too often, developers fail to adequately address multilingual and cross-cultural requirements. Your own company, as well as the many standards bodies claiming to be working in this area, can benefit from localization expertise.

If you're not already a part of the wearable design process within your organization, find out how to join by reaching out to product designers or your executive sponsor. For those who want to help build a global IoT that seamlessly handles not only data but also multilingual data, contact the W3C or the LIDER project.

Testing coverage for localized wearables

Test area

What to test


·  Localized operating systems, smartphones, browsers, Wi-Fi, and companion apps, including legacy versions that are still popular

·  Wearable behavior when used with non-compatible devices or apps

·  Wearable in one language and smartphone in another

·  Crashes

Low or no connectivity

·  Switching carriers or cell towers

·  Jumping from Wi-Fi to mobile networks

·  Data corruption

·  Intuitiveness of user interface when the device or app fails

Battery life

·  Real-life battery usage, including what happens when the battery goes dead

·  Conflicts with other apps that drain the battery

·  Using many apps and services at the same time

Security and personalization settings

·  User expectations in local markets

·  Adherence to local standards

Localization testing for wearables extends beyond what you do for mobile
Source: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.



In summary, it is too early for even the experts to envision clearly where users will lead wearable technology. However, all the sophisticated data analytics in the world have little value if the technology it refers to is not available in the language of the people who use it. Therefore, the sector will benefit greatly from localization expertise. It's time for localization managers to prepare their teams for the wearable future and to share expertise with product groups early and often.