Facebook Inc (FB) traveled to Africa to improve Android app

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As part of a mobile-first strategy, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) decided to visit emerging markets like Africa to learn what some of the pain points of its mobile apps are overseas. Facebook sent a team of product managers and engineers to different regions of Africa to learn about how people were using the service and the types of devices that they were using.

What the team learned was that the app was not fast enough and used too much mobile data. It also failed to load images often and it was overweight based on storage. The mobile team decided from there to improve the experience of the app. The new Facebook app now has 50% reduced startup times and a 50% reduction in data use compared to its app from last year.

There are 90% fewer image load failures and the app has been dropped in size by 65%. These changes were implemented throughout the year. For its mobile devices, Facebook started to use the WebP format for images, which reduced the image sizes by 25-35% over JPG and 80% compared to PNGs. The images no longer load at full-size by default and it only requests a full-resolution picture if you tap to zoom into it.

“Our trip to Africa really highlighted the importance of our work on mobile performance, data efficiency, networking reliability, and application size for emerging markets. We’ve made a concerted effort to improve in all these areas and achieved a significant amount of success in the past year,” said Facebook’s Alex Sourov in a blog post. “The lessons learned have already impacted the development of new features. We test all major features and changes in poor networking scenarios. We have automated verification for various performance and efficiency characteristics, which allows the features team to receive immediate feedback on the impact of their code. We also expanded our playbook to other apps, such as Messenger and Instagram.”

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