This article was published on June 19, 2014

Facebook retools its Android app so it works better in Africa and other emerging markets

Facebook retools its Android app so it works better in Africa and other emerging markets

Facebook is turning its attention to users in emerging markets, and Africa in particular. The company has retooled its Android app to bring a multitude of speed and performance improvements to those with low-end devices and modest internet connections.

Earlier this year, the company ran a series of fact-finding missions to Africa in order to test how the app behaved under native conditions — that means lower quality devices and basic mobile networks. The fruit of that initiative is this Android app update, which the company says includes performance gains across the board, including:

  • Up to 50 percent reduction in initial start time
  • Up to 50 percent reduction in data used
  • Up to 90 percent reduction of instances of images loading slowly or failing to load at all
  • Up to 65 percent decrease in size of the app on devices

The company used a combination of approaches to make these advances, including: the adoption of a new compression format — WebP, which is used in Chrome and the Opera Max browser — the introduction of multiple APKs to accommodate different Android flavors and screen resolutions, a more economical approach to image data, and other changes.

“Our mission extends far beyond building and delivering the best experience on high-end smartphones and LTE networks. We want Facebook to work for everyone — no matter the region, network condition, or mobile device,” writes Alex Sourov, a Seattle-based Facebook engineering manager.

Sourov actually explained that the team got quite a shock while road-testing under local conditions. For one thing, they burned through their monthly data allowance in just 40 minutes, while they experienced the frustration of memory issues, slow load times, regular crashes and other irritants that those in the emerging world may be acutely familiar with.

It’s refreshing to see a company get out and ‘into the weeds’ for a product update that is aimed at users outside of the US. TNW editor-in-chief Martin Bryant lamented US-only products and updates this week and, while Facebook’s update isn’t adding bells and whistles, it has the potential to revolutionize the experience for emerging market users.

With Facebook hitting relative-saturation in Western markets, emerging markets are a key growth area for the company — so this new and increased focused is important for Facebook too.

> Facebook for Android

Headline image via KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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