Flurry is a mobile analytics company that currently tracks more than 10,000 Android applications and 500 million application sessions per day. Since Flurry supports all the major mobile platforms, the company is in a good position to comment on the relative merits and challenges of Android development.
I recently spoke with Sean Byrnes (@FlurryMobile), the CTO and co-founder of Flurry, about the state of mobile analytics, the strengths and weaknesses of Android, and how big a problem fragmentation is for the Android ecosystem. Byrnes will lead a session on “Android App Engagement by the Numbers” at the upcoming Android Open Conference.
Our interview follows.
What challenges do mobile platforms present for analytics?
Sean Byrnes: Mobile application analytics are interesting because the concepts are the same as traditional web analytics but the implementation is very different. For example, with web analytics you can always assume that a network connection is available since the user could not have loaded the web page otherwise. A large amount of mobile application usage happens when no network is available because either the cellular network is unreliable or there is no Wi-Fi nearby. As a result, analytics data has to be stored locally on the device and reported whenever a network is available, which can be weeks after the actual application session. This is complicated by the fact that about 10% of phones have bad clocks and report dates that in some cases are decades in the future.
Another challenge is that applications are downloaded onto the phone as opposed to a website where the content is all dynamic. This means that you have to think through all of the analytics you want to track for your application before you release it, because you can’t change the tracking points once it’s downloaded.
What metrics are developers most interested in?
Sean Byrnes: Developers are typically focused on metrics that either make or save them the most money. Typically these revolve around retention, engagement and commerce.
One of the interesting things about the mobile application market is how the questions developers ask are changing because the market is maturing so quickly. Until recently the primary metrics used to measure applications were the number of daily active users and the total time spent in the app. These metrics help you understand the size of your audience and they’re important when you’re focusing on user acquisition. Now, the biggest questions being asked are centering on user retention and the lifetime value of a user. This is a natural shift in focus as applications begin to focus on profitability and developers need to understand how much money they make from users as compared to their acquisition cost. For example, if my application has 100,000 daily active users but an active user only uses the application once, then I have a high level of engagement that is very expensive to maintain.
Social game developers are among the most advanced, scientific and detailed measurement companies. Zynga, for example, measures every consumer action in impressive detail, all for the purpose of maximizing engagement and monetization. They consider themselves a data company as much as a game maker.
What do you see as Android’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Sean Byrnes: Android’s biggest strength is adoption and support by so many phone manufacturers, and the fact that it’s relatively open, which means development iterations can happen faster and you have the freedom to experiment. The installed base is now growing faster than iOS, although the iOS installed base is still larger, as of now.
Android’s biggest weakness is that it offers less business opportunity to developers. Fewer Android consumers have credit cards associated with their accounts, and they expect to get more free apps. The most common business model on Android is still built on ad revenue. Also, because the Android Market is not curated, you can end up with a lower-average-quality app, which further reduces consumer confidence. At the end of the day, developers want a business, not an OS. And they need a marketplace that brings in consumers who are willing and able to pay. This is Android’s biggest challenge at the moment.
Is Android fragmentation a problem for developers?
Sean Byrnes: Fragmentation is definitely a problem for Android developers. It’s not just the sheer number of new Android devices entering the market, but also the speed at which new versions of the Android OS are being released. As a developer you have to worry about handling both a variety of hardware capabilities and a variety of Android OS capabilities for every application version you release. It’s difficult to be truly innovative and take advantage of advanced features since the path of least resistance is to build to the lowest common denominator.
It will likely get worse before it gets better with the current roadmap for Android OS updates and the number of devices coming to market. However, fragmentation will become less of a concern as developers can make more money on Android and the cost of supporting a device becomes insignificant compared to the revenue it can generate.