Instagram Lite is available for Android-based phones and require just 2 megabytes (MB) – versus 30 MB for Instagram – and runs even on poor 2G networks. A lite version of Facebook app has been available globally for five years.
According to Instagram, the development of the app was co-lead by Instagram’s engineering, product, design, and research team in New York, along with the team at Facebook in Tel Aviv, which is one of the largest strategic engineering centers for Facebook globally.
The new app will also enable people living in rural and remote communities to have a high-quality Instagram experience using minimal data. Thinking about these emerging markets and remote regions, the team came across four main challenges:
- Device fragmentation: users in emerging markets typically buy cheaper devices that have a wide range of specifications; to address this challenge, Facebook created an open-source framework to classify devices and segment them into categories based on their hardware capabilities – this allowed the team to observe that over 50% of people worldwide are currently buying devices that would have been considered high-end in 2012.
- Network types and bandwidth: In emerging markets, a significant proportion of people do not have access to high-speed Wi-Fi internet. This means that they rely on their mobile connection, which is typically no more than 2G/3G. For example, in 2020, 45% of users in India and 53% of users in Africa were still on a 2G-only connection, while in South America this percentage is 23%.
- Data plans: In developing economies, data plans are very expensive and limited to tens or hundreds of MBs. Users often turn off their data connections and rely on P2P file sharing via Bluetooth to send information between devices. As a consequence, they don’t update their apps to the latest versions and stop using the Internet when they are out of data. This is why the Instagram Lite app should minimize data usage as a priority.
- User behavior: many people from these countries are accessing Internet services for the first time. Thus, common assumptions and concepts from countries where the Internet was established decades ago do not necessarily apply. For example, providing short text descriptions next to the commonly used buttons for posts, photos, and check-in provided a big increase in in-app activity.
Turning these challenges into learnings, the team developed a simple, lighter app that stays fast. App size has a direct impact on the user experience, affecting download speeds, mobile internet bills, and app performance.
To get to a 2 MB app size, the engineering team implemented ‘thin client’ architecture, with much of the processing happening on the server-side rather than the client-side. Also, Instagram created tools that help developers understand the impact of code changes on app size. For example, a bot called BuildBot creates a version of the app after each code change and compares it to the previous version, flagging any impactful size increases.
Another technique the team used was to break down the underlying Java packages and identify what was useful versus what could be discarded and rebuilt from scratch.
The Instagram Lite experience is like the Instagram app experience, although some features are not currently supported, such as Live broadcasts, Instagram Shopping, and the creation of Reels, which is set to arrive in the coming months. For IGTV content, only the video preview will be viewable. Yet, Instagram said that it is working on adding these features to the Instagram Lite app as soon as possible.