Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) wants everyone across the world to have Internet access--partly so they can log onto Facebook--and the company quietly created and launched a new app to make sure consumers in emerging markets with older and slower wireless networks can still experience the benefits of the social network on their phones.
According to TechCrunch, which first reported the news, over the weekend Facebook quietly launched its Facebook Lite app in a handful of countries in Asia and Africa, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. The report, without citing its sources, said that Facebook is testing the app and may expand it to other markets, but that a wider launch is not a certainty and Facebook could decide to shut the project down in the future.
The Facebook Lite app is available only for Android phones, is just 252 KB in size, and is designed specifically to work on 2G networks and in areas with poor wireless connectivity. Reports indicate that the app is based on the Snaptu version of Facebook that runs on feature phones, but adds functionality like push notifications and camera integration to make it more of a smartphone experience.
According to CNET, Facebook said the app is still being tested, though it is available via Google Play if users live in a country where it's supported.
The app is just the latest in a series of steps Facebook has taken to increase its relevance in mobile, especially in developing markets. In November, Internet.org, the organization spearheaded by Facebook that focuses on expanding Internet access around the world via mobile, launched an app in Kenya that enables users to browse health, education, finance, employment, communication and local information services without data charges. Separately, Facebook teamed up with mobile operator Airtel Kenya to offer some basic Internet services for free to the carrier's subscribers. Facebook already offers basic Internet services for free in Zambia via Airtel and in Tanzania via Tigo, operated by Millicom.
As more consumers in emerging markets get smartphones, and as average smartphone prices globally continue to drop, Facebook wants to make sure it is offering its service to those customers however it can. In many cases though, carriers in those countries have not yet launched high-speed mobile broadband networks, which likely pushed Facebook to develop Facebook Lite as a stopgap solution.
- see this TechCrunch article
- see this The Verge article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this CNET article
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