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What Facebook Learned From Building 3,000 Apps For “Dumb” Phones

What Facebook Learned From Building 3,000 Apps For “Dumb” Phones

Facebook isn’t taking recent news that it’s losing subscribers sitting down. On the contrary, the social giant is trying its hand at tapping the largest market in the third world–$20 phones.

Called Facebook for Every Phone, one in every eight phones on the planet logs into Facebook on one of the initiatives on over 3,000 models of feature phones (pre-smartphone models–think Motorola’s Razr and its clamshell peers). Phone carriers and manufacturers subsidize users’ data usage, allowing low-cost (if not free) news reading and photo sharing.

While Facebook has just begun to introduce these apps, its investment in the foreign markets of India, Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Mexico is a shrewd move in growing markets: Potential users in the developing world are eager for social media interaction but cannot afford $600 smartphones or $40-per-month data fees.

The Every Phone project began in 2011 after Facebook’s acquisition of the Israeli startup Snaptu, whose team quickly set out to re-engineer the Facebook interface and data transmission to work on very slow cellular networks. They also focused on optimizing the company’s mobile apps to display chat and photo features on feature phones with much lower processing power than today’s smartphone powerhouses.

The investment is already paying dividends. The Facebook interface for slower feature phones is five to ten times more efficient than the company’s smartphone apps, and efficiency improvements from the lower bandwidth versions are already making their way into the company’s flagship smartphone apps. As the user experience becomes more streamlined, so too does the pipeline for advertisements in the foreign mobile market. Although the ad platform on feature phones is not nearly as profitable as the one on smartphone apps, improving it will only pay dividends as Facebook continues to scale its global audience, phone by phone.

[Image: Flickr user Johan Larsson]

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