Facebook has quietly launched a new app but it's not just any other Facebook app. It's a faster, lighter version of its Android app that is targeted toward users in emerging markets.
The social network has not officially announced the release of Facebook Lite, but the latest Facebook app for Android users is now available on the Google Play Store. As of press time, it is doing fairly well, garnering a total of 4.6 stars from nearly 800 users.
A Facebook spokesperson has confirmed to The Next Web that Facebook is "testing a version of Facebook for Android called Facebook Lite that is designed for people on 2G connections or in areas of limited Internet accessibility." If testing turns out successful, Facebook could expand Facebook Lite to cover other markets. Otherwise, Facebook Lite can also be shelved just as other Facebook apps launched before it.
Users from eight countries can now download Facebook Lite. These countries are Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
Like the Facebook app for Android, Facebook Lite allows users to post photos and status updates, comment on friends' posts, send private messages, and start group conversations. However, to accommodate the limitations imposed by low-end Android phones, which are very popular in emerging markets due to extremely low prices, Facebook's engineers designed the app to take up only 252KB of space, compared to the 25MB required by the main Facebook Android app.
The app is also based on Snaptu, the Facebook client for feature phones, but includes more sophisticated features found in the Android app, such as push notifications and camera integration, to give users a fuller Facebook experience. Facebook Lite is compatible with devices running Android 2.2 Froyo and up and is promised to consume far less data than the main app.
Facebook did not provide a rationale for Facebook Lite, but it is widely believed that the social network is looking to Africa and Asia to expand its already large monthly user base of 1.23 billion. Majority of that, or approximately 945 million, use mobile to access Facebook, and 100 million of those mobile users are in India, where low-cost, entry-level Android phones running on 2G networks are popular. Another 60 million are located in Indonesia and 57 million are in Brazil.
Facebook Lite is not Facebook's first project to bring part of the Internet closer to users in developing countries. In 2013, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched Internet.org in partnership with other mobile providers with the aim of providing more affordable and accessible Internet services to remote parts of the world.