Facebook today announced a new global expansion of Messenger Lite, a low-bandwidth version of its messaging app designed for Android smartphones with limited memory and processing power. The expansion, which is adding more than 100 new countries on top of the existing launch markets and other additions since last fall, means Facebook’s more stripped-down version of Messenger is now available to millions of more users around the world. The service originally landed last October in Kenya, Tunisia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela.
That’s bad news for Snapchat on a number of levels. For one, Snapchat is an intensive app now almost wholly focused on videos and augmented photography that relies on cloud processing to add masks, filters, and other real-time effects. The end result of all this computational load is that Snapchat isn’t really a viable piece of software for mid-tier and budget Android phones outside the US, where smartphone owners routinely grapple with hardware constraints and poor network coverage.
For Facebook, which has in recent months aggressively added Snapchat-like features to its main app, Instagram, and Messenger, the expansion of its Lite versions gives it another advantage over its rival. Neither Facebook Lite nor Messenger Lite contain the the kinds of augmented reality and camera effect features that Facebook’s main apps have. But it’s only a matter of time. Just yesterday, the company announced that it’s adding reactions, geofilters, and other subtle camera effects to Facebook Lite. You could imagine these features coming to Messenger Lite soon.
Considering the fact that Facebook Lite just surpassed 200 million users back in February — that’s 40 million more than Snapchat’s most recent monthly milestone — these lightweight apps could become a bigger threat to Snapchat down the line. Facebook may not be able to curtail its competitor’s popularity here in the US. But if it can keep international users from ever signing up for Snapchat the first place, by offering a viable and lighter replacement, then it will have won the war for attention nonetheless.
Update at 2:58PM ET, 4/27: Messenger Lite’s full list of available markets added 132 new countries today, not 150 as Facebook originally stated.
Update at 4:59PM ET, 4/28: Facebook has further clarified that the Messenger Lite rollout is actually to only slightly more than 100 new countries, and neither the 150 figure it originally stated nor the 132 figure clarified later on.