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

When it comes to making Internet of Things products and services intuitive and seamless, cultural differences matter.
By Ian Henderson
Dec 09, 2015

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.

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