Facebook set to launch Instagram Lite in Africa

Facebook has announced the launch of Instagram Lite in sub-Saharan Africa. This lightweight version of the Instagram app, which is being rolled out in 170 countries, uses less data and is better suited for lower quality mobile networks.

Instagram Lite removes some of more data-intensive, non-core features such as Reels, Shopping and IGTV. It is designed to reduce data usage and to help Facebook recruit more consumers in developing countries where bandwidth and the cost of data is an issue. It is now available for Android as a 2MB download.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of online retail, streaming services and social media because of travel restrictions and curfews consumers have faced. Even in low income communities, traditional retailers in several countries have switched to WhatsApp ordering and delivery, a crude form of ecommerce.

It is no coincidence that in February 2021 Spotify launched its streaming services into the majority of African markets. Netflix is available across Africa but original content made in Africa is still comparatively rare on the platform – it hired its first head of African Originals, Dorothy Ghettuba, in mid July 2019. It started to make a serious play in Nigeria only early in 2020, when it shared details of its first original series from Nigeria and launched the Netflix Naija Twitter account.

The evidence strongly points to 2020 as a tipping point in the digitalisation of the economy in Africa, even in low income markets. The cost of data and availability of newer technologies like 4G remain a barrier to growth but even this is changing, albeit not quickly enough in many places. The step change Trendtype also sees in the past 2-3 years is where the digital innovation is coming from.

Some of the digital innovation is coming from outside Africa – Glovo, Jumia (European founders), Facebook etc. But the more interesting businesses are designed to meet specific problems found in low income, traditional markets – companies such as Copia, TradeDepot, Twiga, Kobo360, Pricepally. Investors recognise this impetus to innovate from within the markets in question, which is also driving the growth of tech hubs in Kenya (a longstanding digital hub), Lagos, Accra and beyond.