Jan 28, 2011

The importance of the end-user experience: internationalization

A friend of mine always says: "I don't want more features. I want working features." This friend is also a big fan of Apple and the simple, clean, pleasant, intuitive user interfaces. In principle I agree with him (although I'm not an Apple fan boy), but I'd also like to add that software should work not only in its own little environment, but also in the user's environment.

I've ranted time and time again about the importance of localization and internationalization privately that I think it's time I express my opinion in the public. I'd like to pick on the Apple iTunes Store as an example and point out some of the reasons for my rants.

Here it goes...

Different country means different store.
Be it due to legal issues or some business strategy, Apple has decided separate entities to operate each store at the country level. So for instance, an Inc. operates the U.S. store, a B.V. operates the Dutch store, and so on. One thing worth of noting is that the content in each store differs. While the U.S. store offers games, music, movies, and so on, the Bulgarian store, for example, offers only a limited subset of the iOS apps that are available to U.S. customers.

Transferring from one store to another you ask? Not so easy. Buying a product in the Dutch store does not guarantee that you will receive your updates if you change to the Bulgarian or U.S. stores. Sure, you will get notified that your apps are out of date and a determined attacker may use them to compromise your email and private messaging... but in reality, the app you've installed has been purchased from a separate entity and is not available at the store which you are using. This brings me to the next point...

Your billing address determines your locale.
This is the fun bit in Apple's model. Everything is tied to the customer's payment card. Here is a trivial question: you're an expat living in the U.K., having just moved from Germany (thus having a credit card from a German bank), and are receiving your monthly statements in the Netherlands. Which locale of the Apple Store would you say you are using? The Dutch of course, your billing address is in the Netherlands.

Your locale determines your language.
Here's even the better question: what are the supported languages for your locale? English? German? Actually... Dutch is the only supported language in the Dutch locale. It's sad to see big companies like Apple deciding for their users that if a user receives his/her bank statements in a given country, then he/she surely speaks the local language.

So why am I sharing all this? Well... I for once experienced it as a user. It is not pleasant and it turns users away. Users deserve the right to use software at their own comfort level without being victims of engineering mistakes. Let's learn from this.

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