Mobile App Analytics - Google to Shut Down Analytics SDK. Action Required

Estimated Read Time - 10m 56s.

Similar to all leading tech companies around the globe, Google strive to make continual changes and updates to better their products. The most recent update from Google has just been announced in the past few weeks, and is related to the way Google Analytics tracks mobile app activity. It seems a rather sharp turn has been taken by Google this time. The most recent change now means that the 'old' Google Analytics Services Software Developer Kit (SDK) used for mobile app tracking will soon be sunsetted, and then eventually, deleted. This is of high importance as all data tracked by Google Analytics Properties using this SDK will eventually be lost as a consequence of this SDK's sunsetting.  

As a first wave, you may have received the following letter from Analytics No-Reply user;

 Important changes to your Google Analytics for mobile apps propertiesThe message reads;

You are receiving this email because you are in the first wave of customers who have been identified as users of the older style of Google Analytics for mobile apps reporting and the Google Analytics Services SDK. Specifically, we are notifying you regarding your Google Analytics property(ies) (, ID: UA-XXXXX-XX: "Name", UA-XXXXXX-XX: "NAME").

We want to let you know that in October 2019 we will begin to sunset our Google Analytics for mobile apps reporting and the Google Analytics Services SDK. We are investing our resources in the latest style of app reporting in Google Analytics that works in conjunction with Firebase – Google's integrated app developer platform. As such, the following will take place:

In 2019, we will begin to decommission properties that receive data exclusively from the Google Analytics Services SDK.

Data collection and processing for such properties will stop on October 31, 2019.
Reporting access through our UI and API access will remain available for these properties' historical data until January 31, 2020.
After our service is fully turned down, these properties will no longer be accessible via our Google Analytics UI or API, and their data will be removed from Google Analytics servers. You will receive further notification when this time nears.
At this time, no Analytics 360 properties are impacted by these changes.

We want to give you plenty of time to make the transition. The good news is that the latest solution using the Firebase SDK is even more intuitive and includes free and unlimited event reporting to meet the needs of app-centric businesses. We've invested heavily to make this solution best-in-class, with new features and capabilities rolling-out continually. Additionally, our offering is closely integrated with other Google products and features to help grow your app business like Crashlytics, AdMob and Remote Config.

Getting started with our latest app reporting features is simple and straightforward. Here's how. For additional information on our new Google Analytics app reporting, visit the Help Center. 

This email represents the first announcement in the most recent chapter of Google Analytics for mobile apps migration to Firebase. Based off how this email reads, it is safe to mark the GA mobile analytics SDK as legacy now. For those who aren't aware yet, the Firebase SDK is actually a mobile development platform, not just a standalone analytics tool. The core function of this platform is to deliver Google Analytics data to a Firebase Google Analytics Property.

This announcement highlights that the first wave will only influence users of free Google Analytics for mobile apps. If you are a happy user of Analytics 360 or Google Marketing Platform (GMP) Analytics, no changes are required just yet. However, this is a very strong signal that you should consider a migration of your mobile apps Google Analytics to the Firebase SDK if you have not already done so.

 

Identifying Which Google Analytics Properties are affected at the moment

If you have a Google Analytics Property which is only receiving data from your mobile app(s) using either v3 GA SDKv3 GTM SDK, or v4 GTM SDKs, then these properties and SDKs will be directly affected. This includes the latest version of: Tag Manager + Firebase SDK for both iOS and Android. See my previous article on the SDK comparison for more details on these versions: SDK Comparison: Firbase SDK vs GTM legacy SDKs.

Alternatively, if you are using Measurement Protocol to deliver data then you are not yet affected.

Tracking for Unity and Xamarin platforms depend on which tracking library is being used. If the library is using Measurement Protocol directly - you are not affected. If the library is utilising the GA Services SDK - chances are you are at risk of losing your data. Google Tag Manager containers (both current and legacy versions) will eventually lose the ability to deliver data directly to Google Analytics. 

It is quite common for Hybrid Apps to send data to the same GA Property using both native GA SDKs (v3 GA SDK,  v3 GTM SDKv4 GTM SDKs) and web libraries (such as analytics.js or gtag). If your properties are currently configured in this fashion then you are not currently affected.

Unfortunately for all of us, there is no way to avoid the decommissioning of Google Analytics properties. As mentioned in the email, the only real insurance policy for data loss is an account upgrade from Google Analytics Free to Analytics 360 (GMP - Google Marketing Platform). But even that might be a temporary solution, as these account properties could be affected another 5 or so years down the track.

 

Is this update a good THING? 

Change is always good and this is a big change. In the last couple of years that Internetrix has been tracking mobile analytics data using the web paradigm we have encountered a number of issues. The shift towards a version of Google Analytics that is designed specifically for mobile apps, especially covering the needs of both BI and engineers, is an exciting improvement and something I really looking forward to in the future. Google Analytics for Firebase has made some significant steps to filling this void, but it is not quite there yet. Seeing that Google is adopting feedback into an active development phase is exciting and it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

Analytics designed specifically for mobile apps, especially covering the needs of both BI and engineers, is an exciting improvement improvement and something I am really looking forward to in the future

If you are using the free version of Google Analytics, the decision on what SDK to use is simple - if you wish to continue receiving data after October 2019 you HAVE to use the latest Firebase + Tag Manager SDK and you HAVE to start using Google Analytics for Firebase. You also have to prepare and be ready for the properties listed in your version of the above email to be gone.

If your business owns a Google Marketing Platform (GMP, formerly Analytics 360 or Google Analytics Premium) license, then you should have a conversation with your GMP consultant regarding which SDK is better to use depending on your tracking requirements.

All in all, I would recommend migrating to the Firebase + Tag Manager SDK. The primary benefits are that you can't beat the price - Google Analytics for Firebase is a free tool for unlimited reporting and it supports export to BigQuery. Also, the plug-n-play functionality is very effective and allows for the automatic recording of some very important events. This would instantly generate some useful data, such as App Installs, App Uninstalls, In-app purchases*, App Updates, Session Start, etc.  

 

What does this mean FOR ME? 

First of all, if your business has mobile apps and is tracking app data, now is a really good time to revisit your mobile apps analytics configuration, audit your analytics implementation, and request improvements. With such massive changes involving property and data deletion, I suggest you consider the following action plan: 

  1. Identify which mobile apps are sending data to Google Analytics.
  2. Consult your developers to understand where each mobile app is sending data/events. An app could be sending events to:
  • Google Analytics Properties with ID like UA-XXXXX-XX
  • Firebase project with ID: xxxx

  3. Mobile Apps sending data to GA Properties with similar IDs, as those identified above, are at risk of a cessation in data collection on October 2019. For each of the mobile apps listed on Step 1 create a Measurement Plan and consult analytics data stakeholders to make sure BI, Analytics and Marketing data will be accounted for in the near future. The Measurement Plan just needs to be a list of data points being collected by analytics implementation.

  4. For every tracked mobile app, compare the Measurement Plan with what is currently being collected to identify what changes are required

  5. For every tracked mobile app, make sure the latest SDK implemented is either: v5 Tag Manager + Firebase for iOS or v5 Tag Manager + Firebase for iOS. This will ensure events flow into the Firebase project as required.

  6. For every tracked mobile app, create a Google Analytics Property connecting to the Firebase project the app is sending events to. Navigate to your Google Analytics Account and click on Create New Property in the Admin section of Google Analytics. Choose Mobile App in the "What would you like to track" field and connect it to the Firebase project. You can see how this can be done below:Creating new GA Property for Firebase

  7. For every tracked mobile app, work with your developers and your technical analytics consultant to convert your Measurement Plan into an Implementation Plan. An Implementation Plan translates the business requirements identified in the Measurement Plan to actual implementation points required by developers. At this stage, you will have the latest SDK implemented, meaning that you have the luxury of Google Tag Manager (GTM). GTM is an intermediate layer executing Business Logic by filtering omitted events to help make decisions on what goes where. The beauty of GTM is that you can change certain components of your tracking AFTER the mobile app has been published WITHOUT any changes to the mobile app code! Just remember to not use GMP (as Google Analytics tags in GTM will be removed).

  8. Ensure that your developers follow the Implementation Plan, push your apps to the staging environment, and finally make the new, tracked app version public.

  9. Enjoy the Data Confidence Nirvana!

 

Google Analytics for Firebase limitations

It is important to be aware that despite users are being ushered towards utilising Google Analytics for Firebase, the project isn't perfect and presents a number of challenges and limitations. Hopefully, these will be addressed before October 2019, when the newest updates will come into play. 

Please refer to the Google Analytics for Firebase limitations workarounds explained in this article. You should also consult your stakeholders to make sure they are applicable to your situation. The primary limitations presented by Google Analytics for Firebase are: 

  • Event Limitations
    • only 500 distinct events can be defined per app in the Firebase SDK
  • Restricted Reporting 
    • Firebase reporting barely offers any way to slice and dice the data. Google Analytics for Firebase interface is better but still seems to lack some important functionality
    • In Firebase reporting, it is impossible to view the extra parameters tracked with one single hit in the report. Also, you can only use 10 text parameters and 40 numeric parameters in the Event Report.

    • Google Analytics for Firebase - there are no Views
  • There is no Data Layer - Yep, you heard it right - the only way to persist data between calls is to use User Properties (a special type of parameters which survives apps reload). All other pieces of data need to be supplied with every hit.
  • Parameter Limitations 
    • You can't use complex data types as Firebase Parameters. Previous SDK versions allowed passing Dictionaries and Hashtables, but with Firebase SDK only String, Number and Boolean can be used.
    • Parameter value length is limited to 100 characters which is half of Google Analytics fields (Google Analytics Limits and Quotas).
    • Only 25 parameters can be used per event, compared to 20+20 for free Google Analytics and 200+200 for the paid version of GMP
  • Event Name Limitations - is limited to 40 characters which is again quite poor comparing to 150 bytes for Event Category in Google Analytics.
summary

Google's most recent announcement means that Google Analytics for mobile app users needs to be aware of the upcoming changes. The newest announcement promotes a shift towards the Google Analytics for Firebase SDK, which as you can see above, is not perfect. Hence, it is important to consider the above limitations when designing your Measurement Plan. Internetrix believe that the newest update promotes positive change and we hope that most of the above limitations will be addressed with the new updates, however it is always best to be prepared!

Want to know more about Google Analytics and how to correctly collect and analyse data from your mobile apps? Internetrix has been a Google Marketing Partner (previously Google Analytics Certified Partner) since 2007 and offer expert knowledge and servicing on Google Analytics products. Our Online Performance love all things analytics and would love to hear your questions. Get in touch with us today.

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Comments (1)

pam 09/01/2019 1:41am

Very helpful info. Do you know if it's still possible to create a NEW 360 property without using Firebase?