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Facebook Unveils a Version of Its App for Asia, Africa That Loads Faster

Facebook's latest attempt to gain users in emerging markets.

Steven Sinofsky

Facebook took the lid off Facebook Lite on Thursday, an Android version of the main Facebook app that is built for parts of the world where Internet access is hard to come by.

Facebook Lite is less than one megabyte to download. By comparison, the Facebook app for my iPhone 5s is almost 95MB in size. The smaller version of the app is intended for emerging markets like Asia, South America and Africa where people are coming online using cellphones but may forgo expensive data plans (or have limited data to use each month).

The app includes a lot of the same features the core Facebook app does, like News Feed and photos. It won’t include videos, one of the fastest growing parts of Facebook that also happens to be very data heavy.

Facebook announced the news, which was first reported by TechCrunch, in a blog post.

This is not Facebook’s first attempt to get its product in front of users from these markets. It launched Facebook Zero, a text-only version of the service, back in 2010. In that instance, mobile carriers subsidized the data needed for the app, but it lacked a lot of things that make Facebook interesting, like images. In this case, carriers are not subsidizing Facebook Lite, according to a company spokesperson.

Facebook is also deep into, its initiative to bring Internet access (and Facebook access) to everyone in the world. That plan is running into a few roadblocks, specifically in India, where people are criticizing Facebook for playing gatekeeper to the Web.

There’s a reason Facebook keeps going after these markets: There are millions of people still offline who will have their first Internet experience on a cellphone, and Facebook wants to be there to greet them. Facebook can’t be that ambassador if its service is too expensive to download or too heavy to work on the network conditions. Research firm eMarketer expects India to provide Facebook’s largest mobile user base by 2016, with Indonesia being third on that list.

Facebook Lite will begin to roll out in Asia on Thursday, and come to Latin America, Africa and Europe in the coming weeks.


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