Facebook targets emerging markets with Messenger Lite chat app

The basic version of the company's Messenger app is designed to use an order of magnitude less data for areas with slower internet and less-powerful smartphones.

Facebook's Messenger Lite app is geared towards countries where data is slow or expensive and smartphones are less powerful. Courtesy Facebook
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Facebook has launched a stripped-down version of its messaging app called Messenger Lite, which is designed to work with slower internet speeds and basic Android smartphones in emerging markets, the social networking giant announced.
Messenger Lite uses up fewer than 10 megabytes compared to about 156 megabytes for the full version of the app. Users of Messenger Lite can use core features such as basic messaging, sending and receiving photos, links and stickers. The new Lite app, however, will not have full access to other features such as video, voice calls or bots that Facebook recently introduced.
Facebook's Messenger Lite is starting to roll out to people in Kenya, Tunisia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Venezuela, with availability in more countries in the coming months.
It marks the US social media company's latest foray into developing markets, where it is looking to connect the next billion users by improving internet access and online services. Last year, the company released Facebook Lite for Android users in emerging markets.
Google's Android mobile operating system is the dominant player in emerging markets over its rival Apple's iOS, thanks to lower cost of the devices that run the software.
Facebook has also been testing drones that are able to "beam" internet to remote parts of the world. But its efforts in developing markets have not always been plain sailing. Facebook ran into headwinds in India with its Internet.org programme. It offered a package called Free Basics, which allowed users to access certain services on their mobile phones without data charges. Facebook, perhaps unsurprisingly, is one of the apps that can be accessed as part of this.
Critics said Free Basics went against the principles of net neutrality - the idea that all traffic online should be treated equally. India then banned Free Basics in February.
Facebook Messenger Lite, launched last year, was a different approach to developing markets. The platform, which now has one billion users globally, has become key to Facebook's growth efforts.
This year the company introduced chatbots on both the main platform and its Lite version - apps or pieces of software that users can interact with through speech or text. They are then able to respond, providing information or even carrying out a task.
Facebook is also testing a feature called Messenger Day, in which users can send stories and photos that last 24 hours, much like Snapchat and Instagram's stories features. The service is available in Poland.
* Additional reporting by The National Staff
* The National and CNBC are global content sharing partners. This story also appears on CNBC here.
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