Internet giants browse Africa for new markets

Three years ago Facebook launched a lite version of its social media application for Africa. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Three years ago Facebook launched a lite version of its social media application for Africa. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

America’s Internet giants are wooing African users with no-frills versions of their applications as they seek new avenues for growth, having reached near-saturation in their home markets.

These pared down, “lite” applications are designed to occupy less space on the mobile device and to consume less data, appealing to a pocket-conscious Internet user. They also adapt to patchy network with features that allow offline operations.

Google this week announced the expansion of WebLite, an app that will allow customers to load pages on its browser up to three times faster even as it eats up 80 per cent less data.

“The new development is aimed at improving the search experience for millions of people where network connections are slow and access to devices is limited,” said Google Kenya Country Manager, Mr Charlse Murito.

The service is already available in Nigeria, Brazil, India, and Indonesia. Google says customers using the feature can also opt out to see the original, data-heavy pages if they so wish.

WebLite is only the latest in a series of no-frills applications that have been released to the market by Internet companies over the last few years.  YouTube Go, also from Google, went live in Nigeria earlier this year and allows customers to download videos in a varitety of resolutions for later viewing.

Within nine months, Facebook Lite had 100 million monthly users and by March last year it had rocketed to 200 million monthly users. 

Riding on this success, Facebook has since launched a lite version of its Messenger app, initially targeting Kenya, Tunisia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Venezuela.  Head of Messenger, David Marcus was quoted as saying Messenger Lite was targeting emerging markets with slow internet connections.

“We want to make sure Messenger products are truly for everyone,” Mr Marcus told Reuters last year.

The initial evidence indicates that these efforts are beginning to pay off.  Facebook’s has been recording rapid revenue growth outside its main markets in Europe and in the United States. Average revenues per user in these regions grew 28 per cent in the year to December 2016.

LinkedIn also joined the scramble with its own LinkedIn Lite App that takes up 1MB of space enabling users owning 2G mobile devices to accesss the site with more ease.  LinkedIn, which launched its App in June, said this was a longtime plan to attract more customers to its site especially in new markets.

Twitter is currently piloting a lite Android application in the Philippines that enables low cost access to the Internet. The application is said to occupy under 3 Megabytes (MBs) of a phone’s space. 

People using it are given the option of opting out on data-hogging features such as auto-play of videos.

Twitter had already been offering customers the option of using its Lite Web app and the company’s chief executive has indicated that Twitter Lite is going to be a key cog in the company’s future plans.

“One of our goals is to make sure Twitter is accessible to anyone in the world. And Twitter Lite exactly hits this particular goals. Especially in places like India, we found that our app was just too slow to access,” Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey told reporters in July.

Opera Mini, an Oslo-based browser company, has also been positioning itself to target African customers through features that are supposed to cut down on data wastage.

Opera Mini has announced establishment of an East African hub where it will employ 100 people solely targeting to grow its market niche via creation of region-specific mobile Apps.

Its Africa President Richard Monday said Africa was an important market that produced nine of the top 20 Opera mini user countries of its 100million user base. The Oslo listed firm is now entering the growth phase for its mobile-based App that enables users tom access the net.

Apart from carrying region-specific advertiser content, Opera Mini has also announced plans to launch an online pay point where users will sell and purchase stuff online thereby helping create a unique Africa experience.

Research has shown that although the expansion of the mobile web continues in Africa, customers remain extremely price conscious.