Facebook retools Android app with focus on developing countries

In line with the social network's Internet.org roadmap, Facebook retooled its Android user experience following on-the-ground testing and experimentation in Africa.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

In line with its mobile-first agenda, Facebook is in the midst of rolling out an upgrade to its Android app -- but the process and results consist of much more than a routine update.

In line with the social network's Internet.org roadmap to bring Internet connectivity to virtually everyone worldwide, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company started with the goal to improve and align performance for all mobile devices, regardless of region or network conditions.

Rather than just settling for automated data and user feedback, Facebook engineers went to Africa to conduct on-the-ground testing and experimentation to examine first-hand mobile performance in developing countries.

Alex Sourov, an engineering manager based out of Facebook's Seattle office, described the experience in a blog post on Thursday morning, noting that engineers started by purchasing a melange of Android handsets.

Sourov admitted that the testing process wasn't easy, suffering from a combination of an intermittent, low-bandwidth network connection and a lack of memory space on the devices." The team even burned through their monthly data plans within just 40 minutes, according to Sourov.

But in the end, it appears that the trials and tribulations were worth it given the information they uncovered.

Here's a rundown of some of the adjustments Facebook engineers were able to make for Android -- even on older devices -- in the six months following the trip to Africa:

  • Reduced app launch and News Feed load times by more than 50 percent
  • Made adjustments on data consumption (i.e. how much room photos take up, etc), cutting overall data consumption by half compared to the year prior
  • Improved the networking stack, slashing slow and failed image loads by as much as 90 percent compared to the same time last year
  • The overall app size was trimmed down by 65 percent compared to the start of 2014.

Along with further details about technical changes, Sourov posited that the overall experience "highlighted the importance of our work on mobile performance, data efficiency, networking reliability, and application size for emerging markets."

Looking at Facebook's expanding mobile app portfolio, the team also assured that these findings and changes will eventually be applied to other assets, such as Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

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