App Analytics from Apple

Despite the name of this site appearing to sound like a certain brand of computer from a fruit company, this isn't primarily an Apple site and the Macaroni/Macintosh similarity is purely co-incidental. 

However, if you read the articles here regularly, you might be aware that I'm also an iOS developer with one slightly mediocre app in the iOS app store. I use Xcode and iTunes Connect which are Apple's tools for creating applications and releasing them to the app store.

At WWDC last year, Apple announced that they would be releasing app analytics to developers in the near future. It seems that sometimes "soon" means 11 months later. Just last week, Apple opened a beta program for their App Analytics feature which I obviously applied to join.

I got an email this morning saying that I had been accepted into the program. I'm not sure how wide acceptance into the program is yet so I thought I would write a little bit about it. 

Once I logged into iTunes Connect, there was a new icon waiting for me. I clicked on it and saw a dashboard of useful numbers. There are two different sections of metrics available.

Firstly there are App Store details. This show how many people have looked at the app in the iTunes store. This is useful information that isn't currently available from any other source. Sales were known to developers but the number of page views weren't. Interestingly, according to the FAQ, the App Store views seems to be "the number of times your app’s App Store page has been viewed on a device using iOS 8 or later". So this appears not to include web page views and views from within the iTunes app on Mac OS or Windows.

The other type of data is app usage. You may have noticed when setting up a new iOS device or when installing an OS update that you are asked whether you wish to share diagnostic data with  app developers. Obviously you say 'no' to that, because who wants their data to be shared. Well, it turns out that as an app developer, I'd like it to be shared. The amount of data shared is minimal and quite useful to developers.

The App Store data is for shown all users but the analytic data is only for those users who have opted-in. Helpfully, Apple tells you how many users have opted-in by clicking on "About App Analytics Data". It tells me that "In the last 30 days, 11% of users that installed "Simple GPS logger" agreed to share their data." 11% is a little too low to really be useful, especially when my app only has about half a dozen downloads per day: meaning I only get full analytic information from about 5 new users per week.

I understand why Apple has set up the analytics to only share information from users who have opted-in. This is the way that Apple operates because customer privacy is important to them. 

The App Usage data is pretty basic compared to what you get from someone like Flurry (now part of Yahoo), but as a user you're also not sending all your data to a possibly untrustworthy third party.

The only information that developers receive from Apple about app usage is number of installations, number of sessions and number of active devices. This can be broken down by app version, iOS version, platform, region and territory. This is only for users who have opted-in to share data with developers. There is also information about user retention but because my numbers are so low, I have never found it to be that useful. 

Unfortunately because of the small number of downloads and the opt-in data, breaking down the number of installations isn't much use to me. The most useful metric for me appears to be "Active last 30 days" because it isn't just a squiggly line that occasionally jumps above 0 but is instead a total number of active devices over the month.

As a slight aside, have you ever tried tracing the data packets being sent from your phone? Try it one day and you'll be surprised how much traffic is sent to sites like Flurry and Google Analytics.

Currently in my app I use Flurry for analytics information. This provides information about all users of the application. However, none of them have opted-in to having this information shared. Knowing what I know about the information that Apple shares I'm quite happy to have it enabled. But whenever the question has been asked by the phone I have thought carefully about it and worried about what exactly might be shared. Considering that I am a little reticent to share the fact that I use Flurry, maybe I should promote it more widely within the app to let users know.

That's all that I've got about Apple's analytics offering now. It's not as useful as it would be if it weren't opt-in but Apple was never going to offer anything else. Useful for developers in the absence of anything else. If I was writing a new app then this might be enough, but I'm not going to be removing Flurry from my app just yet.

This is probably the most focussed article that I've written that isn't related to a news event. I'll probably be writing a few more stories about Apple over the next couple of months. As part of my development work, I'm heading to San Francisco in early June for Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference. I'm really looking forward to this.