Facebook has more than 1.2 billion users, including many in developing countries.
And while the company has tried to code its mobile apps in such a way that they don’t need too many network resources, accessing Facebook can be a challenge in areas where data networks are slow or coverage is poor, or where many people are using low-end smart phones.
This week, Facebook quietly launched “Facebook Lite,” a bare-bones version of its official Android app that can be used “in all network conditions.”
Facebook Lite is about a quarter of a megabyte in size when installed (compared to almost 30 megabytes for the regular Facebook app for Android). The app still supports all the major features of Facebook, including photo sharing, post notifications, and messaging – it just does it while using data as sparingly as possible. The user interface is somewhat more minimal than that of the main Android app, and Facebook Lite doesn’t allow some special comment and photo features, such as adding stickers to comments.
Facebook Lite is currently available in Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Users outside those countries can’t install the app from the Google Play store, but can download and install the program themselves with a little patience. The app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times and – perhaps surprisingly – has a much better rating on the Google Play Store than the main Facebook app for Android. Most reviewers praise the app’s stability and reliability even when it’s being used on dicey data networks.
Facebook has been focusing a lot on developing markets over the past 12 months, as the rate at which new users join the social network has slowed. Users in many emerging markets are just buying smart phones for the first time, and data networks are slowly expanding, allowing users to get online for the first time. For its part, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab has partnered with Internet.org to bring basic Internet access to previously under-served areas of the world. In 2013 and 2014, the companies used satellites to construct mobile data networks in Paraguay and the Philippines.
In areas where data coverage is sparse, many people rely on the mobile version of Facebook’s website, rather than using a dedicated app. Facebook Lite should make using the social network a more stable experience, including on low-end tablets and smart phones.