Not content with spinning out apps for stickers inside Messenger, Groups and new addition Rooms, Facebook has launched another standalone app. Facebook Lite, which some may recall as a simplified version of its mobile website from 2009-2010, is specifically designed for low-end Android devices in emerging markets.
TechCrunch understands that the app was quietly launched in a handful of countries in Asia and Africa over the weekend — Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zimbabwe to be precise — where it is being testing with a view to further expansions. That said, a wider launch is not a certainty and Facebook could quietly can the project if it doesn’t believe it is worth pursuing.
The app has been built to accommodate low-end and dated Android devices, and users who are on 2G/poor quality internet connections. It’s based on Snaptu, Facebook’s feature phone client, but includes some native Android features, such as push notifications and camera integration, to make the experience a more sophisticated one.
Why is Facebook launching yet another app? Smartphone sales are soaring in India, which was the fastest growing market in Asia Pacific in Q3 2014, while there’s huge potential in Africa and Southeast Asia where mobile will be (or already is) the primary internet platform for millions. Even though Facebook retooled its Android appspecifically for emerging markets last year, it is making sure that it offers a good experience to any user not matter their device or network connection. (Android is the platform of choice for most smartphone owners in emerging markets since devices can cost upwards of $30.)
Facebook already has its Internet.org project, which provides free access to a range of mobile internet services including, of course, Facebook. Internet.org is currently limited to a selection of countries in Africa at this point and, since it is being developed in partnership with carriers and other telecom industry players, launches are time and resource intensive: so why not pull together a ‘Lite’ app that can potentially be pushed to millions overnight, that’s Facebook’s thinking here.
If you’re in one of the aforementioned eight countries where Facebook Lite has launched — and you have an Android phone — then you can check it out here.
The early signs seem positive. The app has already crossed 10,000 downloads at the time of writing, with a 4.6 rating from an initial 693 reviewers. The few early users tweeting about it seem impressed too.