Apple’s localization problem

Andrew Marinov:

7 years ago.

That’s the last time that Apple added support for a new language in iOS.

It’s been years since I’ve started filing radars and hoping that Apple would add my native Bulgarian language to iOS and with each new release, the release notes are the first thing I pour through, looking for any new language editions.

Unfortunately, though, not only is Apple seriously behind on language support, with each year new features come that are geolocked and exclusive.

And:

So how many languages does Android support, compared to Apple’s 32?

A quick research comes up with 188 as of Android 7.0 Nougat and that’s not even counting the dozens of different variations that most languages have.

With six times more languages supported, no wonder Android is so prevalent, especially in poorer countries, where people might not speak one of the languages that iOS supports.

There’s a lot more detail in the post, including similar localization takes on Apple Maps and Siri support.

I’d love for this to be wrong, but Andrew backs up his take with a lot of detail. Has it really been 7 years since Apple added a new language? That just seems hard to believe.

UPDATE: Thought so. From this GadgetsNow post [H/T @spacefork_] on a bit of new iOS 9 language support:

The new software version also introduces new keyboards for Hinglish, Punjabi, Telugu, and Gujarati in addition to a new Hindi transliteration keyboard. It already supports Tamil, Begali, Marathi and Urdu.

And:

iOS 9 also brings support for a number of other Indian languages in apps and websites including a number of Hindi dialects such as Angika, Awadhi, Kurukh, Magahi, Maithili, Newari, and Santali.

To be fair, the article does make some salient points. But this does seem to discredit the lede.



  • Heos Phorus

    what’s more, apple’s language support could really be better. e.g. the german translations of functions in their mac-software – be it final cut pro or pages – are sometimes really, really bad. I run osx in english, but when giving lessons to people who have the german version installed, it’s often pretty hard, to guess what a function does. i don’t know about iOS apps, but i expect the same there…

    and you can’t change the language of a single app you have to change the whole system language, which might be a problem for some. (there are some tricks to change the language of a single app, but it only work’s partially).

    on the other hand, siri works pretty well in german (except when asking for a location, then it’s wrong in about at least 99 out of 100 cases. it even auto-“corrects” names it’s language engine understood perfectly fine. pretty frustrating, seeing it written right in the first place and then automatically changed to something that makes no sense a second later)

  • stopped

    Stopped reading this article after the count of iOS and Android OS language support. Simply counting the list on your own iOS device shows that more than 32 languages are supported, and the StackOverflow post he links as the source of “188” supported Android languages is not about OS languages at all, it’s about locales & languages you can target for your app.

  • Heiðar Berg Hallgrímsson

    He’s talking about “system language”, unless I’m misunderstanding him. It’s about the translation of apps like settings and not if there’s a keyboard available for that language. I have a keyboard in my native language, but I have to navigate the phone itself in English, as there is not a full translation available. Doesn’t bother me the slightest, but I for example have grandparents that would appreciate a translation.

  • @winmaciek

    iOS seems to support 42, not 32 languages. Not a big difference though. I, as a Polish user, can definitely that Apple’s reluctance to add features for some less popular languages is a pain in the ass. For example, there’s still no such thing as QuickType keyboard predictions. Even Windows Phone 8 had this (and it worked there pretty nicely). And the lack of it will be even worse in iOS 11 because predictions bar is the place where password suggestions in Safari will be shown. If you use Polish keyboard up you have to tap “other passwords”, authenticate it and search for the password every time you want to log in somewhere. Most annoying. Maps is also severely limited compared to Google Maps. Few POIs, no flyover, no transit, not even those colorful bubbles with categories when you hit search bar. Siri is virtually useless, even if you speak English very well. I don’t know why they haven’t released even beta in 5 years. Google is ahead, of course. iTunes and App Store aren’t localized too. The hyped “today” section in the latter one is useless even if you speak English well, mostly because it’s refreshed ~every two weeks. There is no Apple Pay. Weird, especially when you consider that 99% of card readers in the country are prepared for it. There are some parts of Apple ecosystem that have been properly localized though. Huge majority of movies have either Polish subtitles and/or lector. Apple Music is well localized too, especially playlists. Not all descriptions of them are translated but generally saying it’s good. Dictation on keyboard also works very well. Nowadays I see way more iPhone users on the street than year or two years ago. I think Apple should acknowledge that and start to push more features outside of US, China, Japan and Western Europe. I’m not saying that we (Poles) have to get everything on par with more important parts of the world but what is happening now is becoming more and more unacceptable.

  • noel

    Stopped reading this article after the count of iOS and Android OS language support. Simply counting the list on your own iOS device shows that more than 32 languages are supported, and the StackOverflow post he links as the source of “188” supported Android languages is not about OS languages at all, it’s about locales & languages you can target for your app.

  • Mo

    Android is also “so prevalent” in poorer countries because it’s being run on so many dirt-cheap commodity devices. By design, as I understand it.

    But by all means, focus on one hobbyhorse as the primary cause. 😉

  • clonanwulf

    Stopped reading this article after the count of iOS and Android OS language support. Simply counting the list on your own iOS device shows that more than 32 languages are supported, and the StackOverflow post he links as the source of “188” supported Android languages is not about OS languages at all, it’s about locales & languages you can target for your app.

  • KaranM

    Dave – like others here, you’re confusing system languages and keyboard languages for input (the article on GadgetsNow you link to is speaking about keyboard languages). The original author was clear (and correct) to point out that iOS only has 32 *system& languages. Apple themselves confirm it in their Tech Specs https://www.apple.com/iphone-7/specs/

    In addition to system languages, iOS supports additional languages for keyboards – this includes the correct keyboard layouts, dictionaries and predictive text, etc. This is only related to text entry and not the entire OS. The Feature Availability by language/country the author points to is quite interesting, albeit and eye chart. https://www.apple.com/ios/feature-availability/

    It’s no surprise Google leads in this both categories by virtue of the broad adoption of Android. It is surprising however that Apple has only been adding keyboard languages as of late and not extending the number of system languages. It is notably missing some EU languages and it can’t be explained by population size (e.g. they support Croatian, but not Bulgarian and Bulgaria has a higher population).

    The rest of the article is mildly interesting, but not as important IMHO as the system language question the author poses initially and the lack of progress for adding additional new ones by Apple in 7 years. Its begs the question why and the strategy behind it vs just adding keyboard language support as they seem to be doing. Having worked in tech most of my adult life, it can simply be boiled down to prioritization, data sources required and people (we see quite frequently that even for a company as large as Apple, they’re constantly running lean teams tackling large problems and sometimes these other priorities fall by the wayside).

    • drx1

      why are there so few “engineers” … it is not typically difficult … well most of it is not difficult – most of it is “easy” – as they say… some day technology will work.

    • count

      You’re confusing countries and languages, or you can’t count, if you think that page you linked shows 32 supported languages.

      • KaranM

        If you look under the section “Language Support” in this link (https://www.apple.com/iphone-7/specs/) there are 32 languages listed (not including the country variations – eg. English US vs English UK).

        Language support English (Australia, Canada, UK, U.S.), Chinese (Simplified, Traditional, Traditional Hong Kong), French (Canada, France), German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish (Latin America, Mexico, Spain), Arabic, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil, Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese