Facebook has come up with a new way of ranking and categorizing Android phones -- something it hopes will keep mobile users engaged with its app while helping to determine what features and content they should see.
The social network has more than 500 million [m] people log into its service from roughly 10,000 different models of Android phone, everything from the latest Samsung Galaxy or Motorola Droid to basic Android phones that can be five years old. Different processors, memory configurations, screen sizes and networks all have an effect on how smoothly the Facebook app runs, so ensuring a wide number of users get a good experience can be a challenge.
Until now, Facebook has largely relied on the screen resolution and which version of Android a phone is running to determine its capabilities and what the user sees. The resolution is important for the screen layout, while the Android version gives a clue as to how advanced the phone's hardware is -- the newer the OS, the better the phone.
But the recent spread of smartphones in developing countries has upset that. Many basic phones, which in the past might have been running Gingerbread or Honeycomb, are now running the much newer Jelly Bean operating system, version 4.2. That's the same OS higher-end phones like the LG Nexus 4 and the HTC One X+.
So instead of the Android version number, Facebook engineers have begun to rank phones by "year class" instead.
The idea is simple: look at each phone and estimate, based on its hardware specs, in what year it would have been a "high-end" smartphone. So, for example, if a phone sold this year came with a processor and memory that were in top-of-the-line phones in 2011, that's the phone's year class, not the 2014 when it went on sale.
Facebook says that by grouping handsets this way, it can better determine what to serve users.
The system is already in use and was employed last month to roll out interface enhancements to phones of year class 2012 and above. It's also being used to help determine what content to show users in their news feed. For example, phones of an older year class won't see as much video as those of a more recent year class.
Looking ahead, Facebook said it's investigating other characteristics that can affect the user experience. One of those is the speed and quality of the network connection.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org