Facebook for Android: now faster, smaller, less data-hungry


To figure out how to improve its Facebook for Android app, Facebook engineers traveled to Africa to test the app on a low-bandwidth network.

They ate through their monthly data plan in 40 minutes.

So developers worked to make Facebook for Android less reliant on data and more logical for users in countries that don’t have major data plans. The company also made the app itself smaller, taking up less room on the phone.

Facebook Engineer Alex Sourov blogged about the trip, and talked about how Facebook for Android needed to use up less data:

We realized that data is extremely expensive in emerging markets, and purchasing more data is often a laborious process. Thus, there needed to be a concerted effort to reduce data consumption within the Facebook app. Interacting with photos is an important part of the Facebook experience, but it takes a sizable amount of data to download them. If we could optimize the download size, we could improve data savings and perceived app performance.

First, we investigated the use of alternative compression formats for image transmission. We built tools to evaluate the impact of several different compression formats on data sizes and eventually settled on WebP. It offered both great compression performance and efficient support from Android. The use of WebP for transmitting Facebook images resulted in data savings of 25 to 35 percent compared with JPG, and 80 percent compared with PNG. This all happened without perceived impact on quality.

Some other key tidbits that came from the Africa test:

  • The tests of Android after the trip resulted in a 50 percent reduction of data use.
  • Start time has been roughly cut in half.
  • After embracing OkHttp, a networking stack open-sourced by Square, reports of slow or failed image loads dropped by almost 90 percent.
  • Facebook for Android app size has been slashed by 65 percent.

Readers: How else would you improve the Android app?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.