Facebook’s business model of selling behavioral data and banner space to advertisers depends on sustained new user signups. Tackling any impediments to that growth is naturally a priority, so Facebook just released a stripped-down app called Facebook Lite to target the lower-end Android devices that are ubiquitous in East Asian and Southern American countries.
Updated on 06-04-2015 by Kyle Wiggers: Added news of Facebook Lite’s official launch in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.
Facebook Lite is only available on the Google Play Store in Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe for now, but it will soon to launch in Asian, Latin American, African, and European nations “over the coming weeks.”
Facebook Lite is a tiny, performance-friendly Facebook portal designed for weaker hardware. Based on Snaptu, Facebook’s feature phone client, the app weighs in at at a mere 252KB, but retains many of its more demanding sibling’s functionality. In the first release, push notifications, camera integration, and instant messaging are included.
Facebook Lite is designed to work on low-end hardware, supports Internet connections with speeds as low as 2G, and should work in areas with somewhat poor connectivity. The app shouldn’t use too much data in the process either.
Facebook Lite is a grab at the explosive trend toward low-end devices in emerging markets, and Facebook is hardly unique in its desire to conquer these new smartphone users. Technology research company Gartner estimated a rise in electronics sales to 2.5 billion units last year. Smartphone sales in India alone skyrocketed 186 percent in 2013, according to analysts at IDC.
Additionally, the trade organization GSMA expects 80 percent of the predicted six billion connected smartphones in 2020 to represent emergent nations. It isn’t hard to see, then, why nearly every Internet-based company is aiming to penetrate developing markets.
What arguably differentiates Facebook is its ambition. Last year, the social network partnered with smartphone and chip companies to launch Internet.org, a project aimed at leveraging drones, satellites, and other autonomous technologies to connect the more than 5 billion people currently without Internet. The goals are ostensibly altruistic, but Facebook has much to gain from new subscribers. Indeed, one of the project’s core tenets is to help to grow mobile businesses.
Beyond Facebook Lite and Internet.org, Facebook’s plans for expansion are unknown, but one thing’s for certain: As the buying power of populations in India and elsewhere grows, Facebook will devote a great deal of effort to expanding along with them.