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Facebook launches new standalone app for low-end Android devices

Facebook has launched a simplified version of its Android app for lower-end devices in emerging markets.

Entitled Facebook Lite, the app is currently being tested following a low-key launch in several African and Asian countries – among them Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. The quiet introduction of the app suggests that Facebook will only expand the project if trials are deemed successful.

Based on Facebook’s feature phone client Snaptu, the app is aimed at lower-spec devices, taking up just 252KB and supporting 2G and other low-quality internet connections. It augments the experience with Android touchstones, including camera integration and push notifications.

The focus on emerging markets is significant, as Facebook is approaching saturation point in many developed markets such as the US, notes Marco Veremis, CEO of mobile marketing firm Upstream.

“While there’s still room for growth [in developed markets] it’s nowhere near the exhilarating rate the company has enjoyed in its relatively short life to date”, says Veremis. “Therefore, it’s no surprise that the social network is turning its attention to emerging markets for its next billion users and these regions are already showing potential – with usage in Asia increasing 26% year on year from the second quarter of 2013 to 2014.”

India is the fastest-growing market in the Asia-Pacific region, and sales of smartphones are rising dramatically in the country. Across much of Southeast Asia and Africa, mobile is the main source of internet access. Facebook has already released a version of its Android app tailored to emerging market needs – Android being the OS of choice in many emerging markets, as devices are typically more affordable.

While the release of Facebook Lite is a clear sign that the social networking giant is attempting to overcome device compatibility as well, Veremis warns that localised content is also key.

“With new markets come new challenges. Facebook is dealing with the issue of device diversity and connection speeds with the launch of its ‘Lite’ app, but to become truly ubiquitous the business will also have to be careful not to alienate new users by failing to cater to local nuance”, he says.

“Polling people in Brazil, China, India, Nigeria and Vietnam, consumers from these markets praised local brands. 78% liked the fact they use local language and dialect and 76% because they use cultural references. As such, while Facebook is heading in the right direction in providing the right technology for emerging market consumers, it will have to be careful to provide the right content if it wants to become a truly global social network.”

Facebook’s Internet.org project is another initiative aimed at providing mobile internet services. It has launched in a select few African countries, but relies on partnerships with carriers and other firms. Facebook Lite is evidently an attempt to move away from this time- and resource-intensive model. The app has already been downloaded over 10,000 times, with initial feedback generally positive.