Photo: maltman via flickr
The version of Facebook released for low-cost feature phones yesterday has one big flaw: it won’t run on many of the low-end phones that are most popular in developing countries.In countries like China, India, and Indonesia, there’s huge market growth in so-called bandit or shanzai phones — low-cost phones created by hundreds of different handset makers, mostly driven by chips from MediaTek and smaller players like Spreadtrum and Morningstar.
Based on research compiled by mobile messaging device maker Peek, more than 500 million of these phones were sold last year. (Peek has a horse in this race — its market is customers who don’t have smartphones.)
Facebook’s new “Facebook for Every Phone” app is written in Java. Most of these white-label bandit phones don’t have enough memory to support Java.
For these super low-end phones, Facebook has a version of its site that works in the low-end WAP browsers included on them. But that relies on users to visit the mobile site — there’s no way to bundle a Facebook app on these phones, for instance.
Peek CEO Amol Sarva — who blogged about the Facebook app yesterday — says that the better solution for Facebook would be to create mobile apps for these platforms, which requires using programming languages that target these chips directly (C/C++).
That’s harder work, but should be worth it for Facebook: according to stats from CheckFacebook.com, Indonesia is the second-largest Facebook country in the world, with more than 36 million users — behind only the United States, and ahead of the U.K. India, Mexico, and the Philippines are also in the top 10 with more than 75 million Facebook users between them.
If Facebook REALLY wants to be everywhere, building a Java app won’t be enough.