Planes, Trains and Connected Automobiles: Globalizing the IoT Requires Localization

By Ian Henderson

When it comes to making Internet of Things products and services intuitive and seamless, cultural differences matter.

In 2008, there were already more things connected to the Internet than people—and yet, the market for connected devices is only expanding. In fact, the number of Internet-connected devices is expected to exceed 50 billion by the year 2020, generating as much as $19 trillion in profits in the next 10 years. The projected growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) hints at a future that was previously unimaginable, in which every "thing"—from your car to your stove to your thermostat—is connected.

As IoT technology rises in prominence, connected devices will inevitably spread to all corners of the globe that the Internet reaches. Considering the National Science Foundation's prediction that, by 2020, the Internet will have more than 5 billion users out of a global population of 7.6 billion, it's apparent that the market for the IoT has no geographic bounds.

The age of limitless connectivity is upon us, and it is the responsibility of firms looking to cater to audiences across the world to catch up. Today's global economy has already prompted businesses to adapt products and services for new markets, but the revolutionary nature of IoT technology brings with it a host of new considerations. Developers are tasked not only with digitizing physical experiences but with translating them as well. If connected devices are to be adopted worldwide, they will need to be understood by users speaking a wide range of languages.

Companies need to consider the full IoT experience—from the device itself to user interactions to tech support—when localizing products for global markets.

Start With the Basics
At the most basic level, preparing the IoT for global markets will require the translation of content that appears on different interfaces. That naturally means translating the words that appear on all these smart screens, but companies will also need to account for context.

For example, something as simple as a smart thermometer will need to support both Fahrenheit and Celsius to reflect the different temperature scales. Similarly, a fitness tracker will need to record distance in both miles and kilometers to account for the separate measurement systems. Medical devices will need to report health-care metrics in a range of languages. The data that the IoT creates will be useless if people are unable to contextualize it within their own surroundings.

What's more, think about time. How your interface will display hours, days of the week and months will change depending on your target audience. For instance, the American and Arabic weeks start on Sunday, whereas in Europe and Japan, the start of a new week is on Monday. Because of these seemingly simple differences, companies expanding into new markets around the globe will need to make content adjustments to take advantage of the opportunities the IoT presents.

Create a Familiar Experience
Part of what makes IoT technology so appealing is its ability to replicate physical experiences via connected devices. But before you can reproduce an experience digitally, you need to define users' understanding of what is normal. Take a light switch, for example. Americans are used to turning on the lights by flipping the switch up, whereas Europeans expect to flip it down. The difference is easy enough to figure out if you're traveling abroad, but how will the difference be mediated when light switches exist on a mobile app? In this situation, companies will need to ensure the switch icon will cater specifically to the intended market.

Another hot-button topic in the connected-device industry is connected cars, with companies from Tesla to Google and perhaps even Apple (if the rumors are true) preparing smart vehicles. In fact, connected cars will constitute 75 percent of the automobile market by 2020. And while driving may seem somewhat universal, the experience needs to be localized for different countries. From adjusting which side the driver's seat is on to translating the language of its GPS and in-car data, businesses will need to create a comfortable experience for drivers across the globe.

Consider Tech Support
So, you've successfully rolled out IoT technology in a variety of international markets. You've translated all text on the IoT device interface and accounted for regional differences that may come up in user interactions. But what happens when a customer in Germany, for example, has a question about your product? If your team is based in the United States, will the German customer's questions be understood? Will there be someone readily available to answer questions in that person's native language?

Since the IoT is still a nascent industry, it's inevitable that customers are going to need a degree of technical support. With this in mind, companies launching IoT products abroad need to ensure that customers can access tech support regardless of where they are or what time it is. That can take many forms, depending on the resources available. Whether you employ in-country support specialists, provide localized, email-based customer service or translate FAQ pages on your website, it's important that global customers aren't left to fend for themselves.

The Internet of Everything Is Imminent
Whatever your industry, chances are it's headed toward IoT enablement. If your company has or plans to grow an international presence, it's important to have an eye toward local markets. Those that are first-to-market with localized IoT devices will have the upper hand on existing and emerging competition.

Ian Henderson is the CTO of Rubric, a global localization services provider. With more than 20 years of experience supporting worldwide localization clients, Henderson combines a deep knowledge of globalization issues with an understanding of technology considerations and distributed team management.