Build-Measure-Learn. While this concept is definitely not new, even though the Lean Startup movement seems to claim so, it is still very important. Unfortunately, there are not too many options when it comes to measuring the usage of mobile apps.
An obvious solution would be to run your own service, something that I have been doing for years. Every API call was logged with a few extra parameters about the user. I also built a small tool to crunch the numbers. If somebody needed more detailed or specific statistics, I had to query the database directly. Another downside to this approach is that hosting this kind of service could eventually become costly depending on the amount of users.
So, I wanted to switch to a third party solution that handles big amounts of data easily and provides better analysis tools. The only three options that seemed reasonable at the time (July 2012) were Mixpanel, Flurry, and Google Analytics.
Other developers on Twitter seemed generally happy with Mixpanel but a look at their pricing table made me gulp. While I personally don’t mind paying for services, it seemed unreasonable to try to convince people at my company to spend a few $1,000 every year just for mobile statistics.
I registered a free account for Flurry and integrated their SDK into my app. Everything looked perfectly fine but after one hour of using the app, data points still would not show up in their web interface. It did not seem very realiable and I stopped exploring it.
Google Analytics is probably the most popular solution for tracking websites and also provides many upsides for apps:
- Regular people are used to the analysis tool and probably even use it for their websites. So all of their data is gathered and accessible in one place.
- It has no problem with big amounts of data. Theoretically, every button click could be logged without any complications.
- It’s reliable. I personally have not experienced any downtime or lost data.
- It’s free. (Some people might not feel comfortable handing even more data to Google, so that should be considered.)
Once you start using Google Analytics for mobile apps, it becomes obvious very quickly that the service was not built for that use case. However, you can bend it to your will.
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