Cellular networks in the developing world are notoriously unreliable, and that’s especially the case in India. Partly to blame are the country’s restrictive telecom regulations, which limit operators in the country to a narrow band of 3G spectrum — or just enough to deliver a maximum download speed of 21 Mbps. Unfortunately, the situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon. According to a report published by research firm HSBC Global Research, 4G adoption faces “significant technical challenges” — including internet speed, interference, poor coverage, and shortage of bandwidth — that threaten to prolong 4G deployment for years.
In the meantime, content platforms that depend on reliable connections are making due with stopforgaps. Social behemoth Facebook launched Facebook Lite, a bare-bones, slimmed-down networking client, in June of last year. Mobile messaging service Line rolled out a lightweight app last August. And in much the same spirit, Google unveiled YouTube Go, a new mobile client for YouTube, on Tuesday morning at an event in Dehli.
Google describes YouTube Go as a new app “built from scratch” to bring YouTube to “the next generation of viewers” — folks saddled, in other words, with unstable internet. “We realized that for the next generation of YouTube users to fully discover all that YouTube has to offer, we had to reimagine the YouTube mobile app from the ground up,” YouTube’s Vice President of Product Management Johanna Wright wrote in a blog post. “[Indian viewers’] experience is not great on slower connections and less powerful mobile phones.”
To aid in development, Wright and a team of “engineers, designers, and researchers” enlisted the help of YouTube users across India. “We have been traveling to India, collecting ideas and testing prototypes with hundreds of people across 15 cities,” she said. The culmination of that work, YouTube Go, is designed to work offline and on networks with “low connectivity,” and makes a concerted effort to reduce the amount of data consumed while video is being streamed or downloaded.
Not all of YouTube Go’s features are new, per se. In 2014, Google launched YouTube Offline, a setting within the YouTube app that lets users download videos. Smart Offline, which launched earlier this year, automatically schedules downloads on days and times when networks are least congested.
YouTube Go inherits both data-saving features and introduces new ones. A “preview” option lets users see a digest of videos before committing to a download, and new offline options include the ability to choose the resolution — and the amount of data, subsequently — of videos before they’re saved. YouTube Go’s other highlights, though, are of a decidedly more social flavor: A “find and discover” tab surfaces videos that are popular and trending nearby, and a “share nearby” tool allows users to send friends and family videos offline, without using any data.
YouTube Go was one of several connectivity projects Google announced Tuesday. Another, Google Station, provides a set of tools that allows partners to deploy and monetize public Wi-Fi hot spots. An expanded Data Saver mode in Chrome for Mobile intelligently compresses webpages to speed up browsing. And an updated Google Play client will improve download speeds.
All are scheduled to launch in India in the coming months.
“In an increasingly mobile-first world, India gives us early insights into the future of the Internet,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an op-ed for The Economic Times on Tuesday. “Moreover, we learned the issues Indians may have with connectivity and data constraints can be universal.”
YouTube Go will make its public debut in the next few weeks, Google said, but interested testers in India can sign up for a beta program by visiting youtubego.com/signup.