Tech Companies Lighten Popular Apps to Court Emerging Markets
To woo customers in emerging markets, tech companies are releasing lighter versions of popular mobile and web applications. Lower-bandwidth versions of YouTube, Twitter and Skype target customers in India and other developing countries, many of whom have spotty internet connections and older phones.
Google’s latest lighter version of YouTube, YouTube Go, was released in beta to approximately 60,000 emerging-market customers, according to CIO. Google also released a low-bandwidth iteration of Chrome in September 2016 and an offline version of Google Maps for patchy data connections.
Microsoft’s Skype Lite, available through Google Play, is optimized for 2G connections and legacy phones, as Techcrunch reports. Microsoft makes no secret that it’s targeting India’s pool of 1.25 billion potential customers and says that Skype Lite is “built in India, for users in India.”
“To reach every person on the planet, we need to reach people on slow and unreliable networks,” writes Nicholas Gallagher, Twitter Lite’s lead engineer, in an official Twitter blog post.
“We want Twitter Lite to be the best way to use Twitter when your connectivity is slow, unreliable, limited or expensive,” he also notes.
Optimizing for Legacy Technologies
As much of the world focuses on the emerging 5G network standard, large population segments still use legacy connectivity standards and device technologies. According to a study by Counterpoint Research, just 300 million of India’s residents — about one in four people — own a smartphone. The rest rely on lower-end handsets with limited space and capabilities. Although tech companies are investing in improved connectivity, such as the Google Station project delivering public Wi-Fi in India, they’re also adapting to the situation as it exists now.
According to research by PwC, only 43 percent of the world’s population can afford 500 megabytes of monthly mobile data. Although the average smartphone user in developed nations uses 630 MB of monthly cellular data, they consume 2 gigabytes when factoring in Wi-Fi consumption. In India, to become more affordable, current data costs would have to drop by 66 percent.
Lightening a web app for emerging markets means loading only what’s needed. Twitter Lite, as Gallagher explains, authenticates users, constructs the initial app and then renders the HTML application shell. Webpack breaks up the app into granular assets and only delivers them on request. The app requests data from the Twitter API, and when the API responds, Normalizr deduplicates data and repackages it for more efficient delivery.
YouTube Go lightens its load by giving users options for lower video resolutions. Users can preview videos, download them and watch them offline. Skype Lite, in addition to compressing images and videos, relies on a system of India-based bots to automate functions and deliver content more efficiently than it could through a web browser. The app only takes up 13 MB of space on a user’s phone, another advantage for consumers dependent on older Android models, notes Techcrunch.
Growth in Emerging Markets
Nasdaq, citing International Monetary Fund (IMF) data, notes that emerging market economies are growing at significantly faster rates than developed economies. IMF forecasts 4.6 percent growth for emerging markets in 2017, compared to the global growth rate of 3.1 percent in 2015.