Why are developers of social networking and messaging apps introducing lite versions of their apps? Who actually cares about these data sparing apps and why? To find out, we need to take a look at things on a global scale.
Smartphone usage is growing fastest across Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Gaining a foothold in these markets requires special attention from app developers, though. There are a number of key technological conditions that must be taken into consideration. What may be self-evident for some in smartphone users may still be a luxury in emerging markets.
The reality: low-spec phones, expensive data, prepaid plans and slow connectivity
In western countries it is quite common for smartphone users to have post-paid data plans without the stress of reaching data limits or suffering from ‘bill shock’. In emerging markets, people mostly have prepaid plans. In these regions data is expensive for people so they are curious to find ways to save data. The share of prepaid plans per country is around 95 percent in emerging markets whereas in Europe and North America it is around just 30 percent.
Not only is data expensive in emerging markets but mobile connections are also quite unreliable and slow. 3G, let alone 4G, is still, and will be for several years, a luxury in many of these areas whereas most advanced countries are already looking at 5G connectivity.
There is huge regional differences in the development of mobile networks. Globally, 2G subscriptions will mostly be replaced by the estimated 4.3B 4G subscriptions by 2020.  The share of 4G in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to still be only 12% and the share of 2G connections as high as 41%. In India, 4G as a percentage of connections is estimated to grow to 7% in India by 2020. 
Smartphone penetration grows in line with mobile network development since all the fancy mobile features like video streaming tends to require a significant amount of network bandwidth. In Africa, smartphone adoption rate was around 30% last year as the global average was 51%.  Smartphone penetration in India will double to 49% by 2020. 
The above insights are able to shed light on the speed of growth that will be going on in the mobile sector for the next five years. Now, let’s look at mobile behaviour in more depth.
Mobile is big in emerging markets – and social is coming
Despite the challenges in connectivity and the high cost of prepaid data, mobile is the leading way to use the Internet in emerging markets. Countries like Nigeria and South Africa lead the charts in mobile’s share of all web traffic. While the global average is 50%, the share of mobile web traffic in Nigeria, for example, is as high as 81%. 
In Africa, only a little more than one out of ten of people use social media on mobile.  The growth of active mobile social media users is booming at record speed in Africa, 47% year-on-year.  These figures reveal why the developers of social networks and messaging apps are turning their heads towards emerging markets and seeing the trouble of minimising their app sizes and data usage. These areas hold a billion potential new users, eager to become social on mobile as soon as the technological obstacles they face are overcome.
Some lite apps and their features
There is a growing number of apps that have been designed low-spec smartphones in mind to save users’ mobile data and operate in slow connectivity areas. Here are a few social apps that have been designed harsh conditions to offer a more stable user experience:
- Facebook Lite
- Jongla – Social Messenger
- Line Lite
- Messenger Lite
These apps take around 1-3MB to download which means less than one tenth of a regular social app. They all promise to install and operate faster, use less data and operate even on 2G networks. Features offered range from social feeds to communities of nearby users. People in emerging markets no longer necessarily need to miss out on social apps – there are many lite options up for grabs.
Image: Android app screenshots and icons of lite apps from Google Play store
Article written by Jongla, the Finnish messaging pioneers and creators of Jongla – Social Messenger.
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