Facebook adds video chat to Messenger Lite, its pared-down Android app

After bringing its pared-down Android app Messenger Lite to mature markets like the US and UK last autumn, Facebook is expanding its features to ramp up engagement. Today, the company announced that it is adding video chat into the mix.

Messenger Lite, first launched in 2015, was initially part of an effort from Facebook to build more apps to boost usage in developing countries, where mobile usage is more costly and people are more likely to use more lower-end Android devices. Lite comes in at under 10MB, meaning it installs quickly and generally uses less bandwidth to operate.

Originally launched with a focus on Messenger’s core features — text messaging, photo and link sharing and stickers — Messenger Lite now will offer video as a quick step away from the main screen. In an existing or new conversation, or during an audio call, you just tap the video icon in the corner (in messaging) or in the middle of the screen (in a call) to switch to video.

Adding video into the Lite app could be a sign of a few other things. The first is that Lite users are starting to move onto (and expect) more advanced services.

“Video chats are an expected and essential part of everyday communication in today’s messaging experience,” Facebook notes. “Chatting face-to-face live is perfect for those moments when you want to see and hear the voices of people you care about most – whether you’re wishing someone a happy birthday, you have some great news to share, or you spontaneously want to catch up on the day.”

Or it could be simply that this is what Facebook hopes might be the case.

Messenger Lite is in over 100 countries today. It’s not nearly as popular as basic Messenger in the US, but according to stats from AppAnnie, it has at one point or another reached top 10 app rankings, and definitely in the top 25 of dozens of smaller countries.

But numbers from SensorTower potentially point to why Facebook is now boosting the features in the app. The company estimates that Messenger Lite has over more 100 million installs worldwide to date, primarily in India, Brazil, and Indonesia, but compare that to around 700 million installs from the Google Play store for the main Messenger app — and that’s just since the launch of Messenger Lite.

Interestingly, developing countries have been a strong market for the main Messenger app, too. “The primary country for new Messenger installs via Google Play is India, with Indonesia ranking second and the United States coming in third. Brazil accounted for the fourth largest number of main Messenger app installs through Google Play since Messenger Lite’s launch,” SensorTower told me.

So, this could explain in part some of the later expansion to mature markets. With Google Play users in the U.S. accounting for less than 2% of Messenger Lite installs so far, and Messenger Lite overall still not raking in a mass of users, you can see why Facebook is looking to do more.

Aside from functionality that users might expect or could drive more usage, it’s good business for Facebook. Video chat has been one of the bigger rocket ships within its core Messenger app, with Facebook clocking 17 billion video chats on it in 2017, double the year before.

The second trend to note here is that technology is moving along, and delivering cost-effective streamed video services to mobile consumers is becoming easier and easier.

Facebook’s infrastructure efforts are one example of how the social network is directly making efforts to bring that about, and also of how it’s benefitting from that work, if not directly monetising it by providing mobile network IP and other help to carriers.