Twitter debuts a Lite version for emerging markets

The data-friendly version is browser-based

Twitter launched Thursday a ‘Lite’ version of its service that runs from the browser on a smartphone, in a bid to attract customers in emerging markets, who have flaky Internet connections or are wary of spending too much on data.

The micro-blogging service said that Lite had been designed as a Progressive Web App in collaboration with Google and is available at mobile.twitter.com, and does not require an app store. It is said to take up less than 1MB on the device.

Lite offers key features of Twitter such as the timeline, tweets, direct messages, trends, profiles, media uploads, notifications. With features like data savings, offline access to loaded content, resilience on flaky networks and fast load times, it is designed for emerging markets where networks are still patchy and data expensive.

While smartphone adoption grew to 3.8 billion connections by the end of 2016, 45 percent of mobile connections are still on slow 2G networks, wrote Patrick Traughber product manager at Twitter in a blog post, citing data from GSMA Intelligence.

The move by Twitter comes a day after Google tried to give a boost to YouTube in India by offering a beta version of YouTube Go, its app that allows users to download and view videos offline to take advantage of low night tariffs, and also lets users choose the resolution for the video download and streaming depending on their data connection.

Lite targets users around the world, supporting 42 languages, but the company appeared to focus on India at the launch of the new service. Six Indian languages - Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Gujarati, and Marathi – will be supported from the start.

The company said it has partnered with Vodafone in India to provide live cricket updates through a specially curated Twitter timeline to the mobile operator's smartphone customers as a popular cricket season kicks off.

Twitter Lite is a client-side JavaScript application and a Node.js server, which handles user authentication, constructs the initial state of the app, and renders the initial HTML application shell, wrote Twitter engineer Nicolas Gallagher. Once loaded in the browser, the app requests data directly from the Twitter application programming interface, he wrote.

As it is on the mobile web, Twitter Lite is supported from the start on a number of mobile devices. It is currently compatible with devices supporting Chrome - Version 40 and above, Firefox - Version 40 and above, Safari - Version 7 and above, Android Browser - Version 4.4 and above, Microsoft Edge and Opera.

Twitter Lite reduces data use by default by using cached data and serving smaller media files, wrote Gallagher. Images have, for example, been optimized to reduce their impact on data usage by as much as 40 percent as the user scrolls through a timeline, and in a data saver mode, usage can be further reduced by replacing images in tweets and direct messages with a small and blurred preview, which can also be shut off if more data savings is required.

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