Facebook's Android app will soon work much better in emerging countries with weaker infrastructure

Facebook
Image Credit: Franco Bouly

Facebook wants to bring the Internet to everyone in the world, and Facebook wants to bring, well, Facebook to everyone in the world, too.

The social networking giant is currently updating its Android app so that it can function well on all devices and in all network conditions. This is also in line with its Internet.org project, which aims to bring internet connectivity everywhere.

As part of this update, a team of Facebook engineers actually went to Africa to test and and experiment in the actual conditions of developing countries. Facebook’s Innovation Lab, in partnership with Ericsson, actually provides developers with labs that recreate the conditions in emerging countries where they can test and develop apps.

Alex Sourov, an engineering manager working on this, said in a blog post that the team first purchases a variety of Android handsets. The testing process proved to be pretty challenging because of “intermittent, low-bandwidth network connection and a lack of memory space on the devices resulted in slow load times and constant crashes,” he wrote. The team even burned through its data plan within the first 40 minutes.

But in the end, Sourov’s team was able to make several improvements on the app:

  • Reduced start time and News Feed load time by 50 percent.
  • Switched to WebP for image compression and transmission, which resulted in 25 to 30 percent data savings as compared to JPG, and 80 percent as compared to PNG.
  • Made changes to the image loading resolutions and image caching; along with switch to WebP, this resulted in cutting down data consumption in half.
  • Made networking adjustments to cut down on image and News Feed load fails, which coupled with the data consumption improvements resulted in a 90 percent drop in reports of load fails.
  • By leveraging the Google Play store’s ability to upload multiple Android application package files (APKs), which means that each device only gets the app version with the features it supports, app size decreased by 65 percent.

Sourov also wrote that the team has made its research and findings available to the Messenger and Instagram apps to help them also work to optimize their performance in those conditions.


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