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Built in Tel Aviv, Instagram Lite rolls out in 170 countries

Written by NoCamels Published on     3 mins read

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Instagram Lite was built at Facebook’s R&D hub in Tel Aviv, one of the largest engineering facilities for Facebook globally.

Facebook is beginning the rollout of Instagram Lite—a lighter, faster product designed for low-speed internet connections and lower-end smartphones—in 170 countries this week, including Israel, with plans for a global launch in the near future.

Like Facebook Lite, which went live more than five years ago, Instagram Lite was developed by a team of engineers, designers, and product managers among hundreds of employees at Facebook’s R&D hub in Tel Aviv, the largest such center outside the US. The work was done in collaboration with a New York-based team that includes Instagram’s engineering, product, design, and research personnel.

Instagram Lite weighs less than 2 MB, allowing for quick installation and load times, as well as low storage consumption. It will offer the core features of the app, including the feed, Stories, filters, direct messaging, and some IGTV capabilities. Instagram Lite will provide the Instagram experience and remain fast and reliable irrespective of the device, platform, and network, the company says.

To do this, much of the code actually runs on Facebook’s servers rather than the users’ devices (like Facebook Lite).

Instagram Lite is meant for the same target audience as Facebook Lite: hundreds of millions of mobile users in emerging markets across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America with low-spec phones and internet connectivity that does not go above 2G/3G. According to the team’s research, over 50% of mobile users in sub-Saharan Africa are on 2G networks, as are 45% in India and 34% in the Middle East.

Instagram Lite will only be available on Android for now, since it is the operating system of choice in many emerging market countries and supports low-RAM devices.

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The team started piloting Instagram Lite in September with Android users in Southeast Asia, and then in northern Africa and South America before a general rollout. There was a strong focus on what users valued most, namely video and messaging, which people in rural communities and more remote areas use more actively than their urban counterparts, according to the announcement.

A number of features had to be adapted to keep performance reliable, like the cube transitions between Stories and the AR filters people can apply onto faces. Stories in the bar appear in pulses rather than all at once, and the scrolling function and picture size also had to be downsized. Key features like GIFs and stickers remain.

The team got rid of certain icons that didn’t resonate with new digital users—a trash can icon didn’t stick as a symbol for deletion, but an X rang clear.

A popular request has been a “dark mode” for the app, for people who live in communal areas and need privacy. Dark mode is also said to reduce battery drain. The feature became available on Facebook Lite in 2020.

“No matter where they are, people want to be entertained and inspired by those that they love,” says Michelle Lourie, product manager of Instagram Lite, in a statement. “It’s difficult to do that on Instagram with an entry-level phone that has storage constraints.”

Lourie previously indicated that the new app will offer the Instagram experience to millions who are not able to use it due to slow connections, limited and expensive data packages, and low storage capabilities on low-spec devices, just like how Facebook Lite became the Facebook experience for millions.

“Our teams build these lightweight versions of our apps for people with low connectivity or limited data plans, because our basic premise is to leave no one behind,” said Tzach Hadar, director of product management at Facebook Tel Aviv, one of the largest engineering hubs for Facebook globally. “We wanted the Instagram experience to remain fast, high-quality, and reliable irrespective of the device, platform, and network people are on.”

This article first appeared in NoCamels, which covers innovations from Israel for a global audience.

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