Facebook has noticed something that other companies would do well to heed: The biggest opportunity right now isn’t in smartphones, where users are bombarded by the fruits of an ever-more-competitive market for apps and mobile services. Rather, the big play for some companies, especially any that wish to expand into emerging markets, is on the “dumbphones”—aka non-smartphones, or in industry parlance, feature phones—that most people in rich countries have now left behind.
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We’ve known for some time that Facebook’s strategy for grabbing its “next billion” users is to convince them that Facebook and the web are one and the same by making access to Facebook free on every model of phone. But now Javi Olivan, head of “growth and analytics” at Facebook has dribbled out a handful of other interesting details about Facebook’s strategy.
The first is that, since Quartz first reported on it a year ago, Facebook’s push to get onto feature phones, which still comprise half of all phone sales worldwide, has accelerated. The service Facebook is working on is called Facebook for Every Phone, and it allows people with data plans on their feature phones to have smartphone-like experiences while using Facebook—meaning they get images, updates, chat, the whole thing. The secret is that most of the processing for Facebook For Every Phone is done on Facebook’s servers, in the cloud, and a minimal stream of data is trickled out to feature phones, which tend to be on slower networks in emerging markets.