Petition Apple to allow unsupported iOS languages

In the last few months, we’ve had an increased amount of requests from developers who’d like to localize their apps into language that aren’t officially supported by iOS. Unfortunately this isn’t natively possible and at present requires developers to hand code language switching and string lookup within their apps. We want Apple to improve that.

A basic overview of how language support works

Every time you open an app, it queries the system (iOS or OSX) for your language preference. If your system is in Spanish, the app will look for a es.lproj or Spanish.lproj resource folder within the app bundle and show those interface files (XIBs) and strings to the user.

Your system dictates which language the app runs in. If the third-party app doesn’t contain that language, it will use the fallback as defined by the app’s developer, usually English.

The limitations of iOS language support

Apple have included additional language support in iOS almost like marketing features. With each major release comes new system support for additional languages along with interface localization for all the major Apple iOS apps (Contacts, Calendar, Phone, etc).

Unfortunately this means that the iOS supported language list, while somewhat comprehensive, doesn’t allow users to choose languages which haven’t gained official support from Apple.

The expectations from OS X language support

Since OS X was released over 10 years ago, we’ve been spoilt with language support. Users can choose from pretty much every language, even if the system doesn’t contain that localization. This allows developers to include localizations for less popular languages, safe in the knowledge that those who care, will be able to use their favourite software in their preferred language.

System Preferences - unsupported iOS languages

OS X goes even further and allows users to set an order of preference for language support. Someone living in Barcelona is able to say they prefer Catalan (1st), but will accept Spanish (2nd) but will take English (3rd) if they have to. If an app does not contain one of these languages, it will use the fallback language decided by the app.

The Welsh Conundrum

I have to admit, if Applingua hadn’t only recently made a base for itself in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, it may have taken me longer to write this post. For those of you who aren’t familiar with ‘The Land of Our Fathers’, Wales has two official languages: Welsh and English.

With a population of around  3million and less than a third being Welsh speakers, it’s easy to see why Welsh has been forgotten from iOS’s supported language list. Let’s face it, there are more important languages for Apple to be worrying about.

It is however something Welsh developers worry about. All publicly-funded projects, including apps, must be bilingual if intended for the Welsh market. As it stands, this costs developers and companies time and money to manually code a separate in-app string look up.

I’m sure this isn’t just an issue for Welsh developers and there are other countries out there with similar issues.

Support the radar

My proposal is simple: iOS should contain an “Additional Languages” submenu, with the caveat that the system will remain in the fallback language (which for iOS is English).

I created a feature request radar quite a few months ago in April, but having gauged support at @iOSDevUK, which, coincidentally, takes place in Wales, I thought I’d make the radar public.

Bugreport ID: rdar://11342660

Please support the radar by creating your own at http://bugreport.apple.com. You can make reference to my radar ID if you wish: 11342660.


Robert Lo Bue

Rob is CEO of Applingua. With over a decade's experience, he is at the forefront of tech localization.