Market Insight

Facebook launches Lite app for emerging markets

January 30, 2015  | Subscribers Only

Jun Wen Woo Jun Wen Woo Senior Research Analyst – Online Video, IHS Markit

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Facebook has launched Facebook Lite, a simplified and lighter version of its Android mobile app, which is optimized for 2G Internet connections. The app is aimed at mobile users in emerging markets, especially those with low-end Android phones. It takes up only 252KB of device storage which is substantially lower than the 70.1MB Facebook iOS app and the 25MB Facebook Android app.

Facebook Lite is currently available via Google Play in a limited number of countries including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nigeria, Nepal, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

Our analysis:

Smartphone penetration is growing quickly in Africa and Southeast Asia but limits on data consumption and connectivity can be challenging for users. Facebook Lite is not the social network’s first attempt to tailor its services to data-conscious users and emerging markets. In September 2009, Facebook introduced a browser based product which worked in a similar way to its new app in USA, Canada and India. Facebook abandoned support for the site in April 2010, just 7 months after launch. Facebook has also previously partnered mobile network operators for its 0.facebook.com initiative aimed at providing free or low cost access to a browser-based version of the site in emerging markets.

More than one third of the total 1.39 billion Facebook users are mobile-only users, with many of these in emerging markets. Facebook is right to focus on developing an experience that will help broaden its addressable market and keep users engaged.

Facebook has shifted its efforts onto mobile apps rather than browser-based products in emerging markets. Pushing users towards its app will help Facebook’s mobile advertising business which is centred on in-app and app install ads.Facebook’s strategy with its Lite app is following the company’s usual trajectory of building a service to attract and engage a wide audience first, and monetise later.

Besides its Lite app, Facebook has been diversifying its portfolio with other app launches:

  • Groups - iOS 7 or later, varies with Android device
  • Home - Limited to certain Samsung, HTC and LG smartphones
  • Mentions -  iOS 7 or later, no Android support
  • Pages  Manager - iOS 7 or later , Android 2.3 and up
  • Rooms - iOS 7 or later, no Android support
  • Slingshot - Android 4.1 and up, iOS 7 or later

While Mentions and Rooms are only available in iOS while Home is only available to certain Android phones, the rest are available for both iOS and Android. Facebook has classified its users according to different devices, demographic characteristics, and utility. All these apps have different functions and are aimed at different markets.

Facebook has also been involved in other internet access initiatives. In August 2013, Facebook partnered with six mobile companies to launch Internet.org, a global partnership working to offer internet access to the two thirds of the world’s population that is not currently connected. Facebook Lite shares similar goals, but it is more explicitly tied to Facebook’s own core business.

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