App Development

Aggregating Mobile Services with Firebase

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In the past, obtaining useful data and insights about the state of your app and its users has led to a mishmash of various third-party services. These might include crash reporting tools such as Bugsnag or Crashlytics, analytics services like Omniture or Google Analytics, or push-notification services such as Urban Airship. These have historically been fantastic standalone services, but may fall short under certain cases.

For instance, let’s say your users were experiencing a bug that caused a fatal crash, but an update has been published that fixes that crash. You want to notify the users who experienced the crash about the update and perhaps provide an incentive to give your app another chance, possibly a coupon.

Then, you’d like to use analytics to determine what percentage of those notified users revisited your app and/or used your coupon. This particular case is difficult to complete with a segmented third-party service provider, due to the separation of relevant data.

Don’t lose hope, we have good news. At I/O Google announced Firebase, a first-party app development platform for both Android and iOS. Let’s take a look at what makes features in Firebase so compelling.

Crash, Push, Analyze

Google’s Firebase now offers a centralized service for crash reporting, push notifications, and analytics. Based on Google’s experience with Google Analytics, Firebase is a mobile-centric analytics tool with the ability to define audiences based on common user attributes. By combining the data gathered from all three of these components, we can achieve much more targeted pushes, easily track predefined success criteria, and understand our users better. Further, these services are all available under one roof and supported by a company with a vested interest in mobile.

Note: Analytics is currently only available for iOS and Android. If your product has a web component, it’s recommended to continue utilizing Google Analytics while moving to Firebase for the native mobile platforms.

Pricing

Perhaps the most compelling reason to hop aboard the Firebase train is the price tag. All of the previously mentioned services are available to app developers entirely for free. Firebase’s paid offerings include backend file storage and real-time database, although there is a free tier with generous limits. These services are nearly identical to Parse’s previous model, and so will be useful for apps that could make use of a limited backend.

Other Features

Crash reporting, notifications, and analytics are the services we are most excited for, but Firebase offers several other useful features for rapid app development. Firebase App Indexing, previously Google App Indexing, will allow your app to be presented in Google search results. AdWords and AdMob have both been integrated into Firebase to help you monetize your app while retaining your users. Firebase provides a simple way for users to refer your app or share app content with their network via SMS or email. Firebase Dynamic Links provide more powerful URLs, allowing you to change the destination of a link based on runtime state. These are especially useful for promotions and gaining insight into your app’s growth channels.

The new and improved Firebase presented during I/O is bound to be a game-changer in the way we handle user engagement and retention on both platforms. We’re excited to see what else Google plans to bring to their already feature-rich mobile services platform, and how it will affect the ecosystem.

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