Facebook improved its Android app for emerging mobile markets

If you live in a country that has lightning-fast Internet connection, Facebook on mobile should have no major issues. But for those who are in developing mobile markets, like countries in Africa, then connection speed is a major deterrent towards experiencing the Facebook Android app in all its glory. This is something the Facebook developers themselves experienced in a recent trip to the region to further understand how they can bring faster connectivity to the “next five billion.” 

This is part of Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg’s big idea to bring Internet access to the almost 5 billion people who still do not have proper Internet access. A team of engineers and product managers went to Africa, bought Android devices to test how the Facebook app fares in areas where Internet is intermittent and downright slow. Aside from the fact that they were able to use up their monthly data limits after only 40 minutes of accessing the app, they also experienced low memory issues on the phone, still because of the slow connection and the lack of memory space.

After their field testing experience, the engineers focused on addressing four issues, namely, performance, data efficiency, networking and application size. To solve the performance issue, they have deterred initialisation of all the features until after the startup of the app or only when the features will actually be used. According to Facebook, the changes have reduced app startup times by more than 50 percent. For the data efficiency issue, they are now using a different image compression method (WebP) that will transmit data faster as well as improvements in the cacheing and reuse of images. This has save 50 percent of data transfer usage compare with previous implementation.

Networking stack problems were fixed by switching to OkHttp, a stack that is currently being used in the Android app, which will allow faster retries when the connectivity has issues. Lastly, since the most popular devices in Africa have lower disk space than other gadgets, they worked on adapting Google Play’s system so that app size efficiency will be improved. The team will continue coming up with new features that will further address the identified problems so that those in developing areas will be able to use the FB app properly, regardless of connectivity issues.


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