Friday, 20 May 2016 01:28

Google is turning a harsh truth about Android into a strength


It's a cold, hard fact: Apple iPhone owners spend a lot more money on apps than people with phones running Google Android.

The net result is that it's increasingly uncommon to find a developer who only works with Android.

The massive reach of Google's Android operating system is good, but it's almost always better to hedge your bets with a web browser or iPhone app, as well, if you actually want to make money.

That's why a cheer went up from the crowd at this week's Google I/O conference when the search giant announced a huge upgrade to its Firebase product — a popular service, now with 450,000 users, that provides the crucial behind-the-scenes plumbing for iPhone, Android, and web apps.

That update brings lots of new features, many of which will make life easier (and more profitable) for developers. That includes a new Firebase Analytics product, the evolution of the popular Google Analytics, and a bunch more features that bring Firebase into parity with its soon-discontinued competitor Facebook Parse. Plus, it's now completely free.

It's a smart move that turns a weakness — the difficulty making money from Android apps — into a potential strength for Google and its increasingly important cloud computing business.


"This has been a massive effort across the company to unify our efforts for app developers," Google analytics head Russ Ketchum tells Business Insider. "The result is that Firebase is now these full suite of integrated products designed to help developers build their apps, grow their user base, and earn more money."

The Firebase sales pitch is simple: Developers may have a lot of skill at building slick, sweet, interactive apps for the smartphone and the web. But those skills don't necessarily translate into maintaining the server infrastructure that an app needs on the backend for stuff like storing user data or sending push notifications.

Facebook's popular Parse service used to do much of that, before the social network announced that they were shutting it down in 2017. With these upgrades, Firebase now does everything that Parse used to, plus its original killer feature of super-speedy database synchronization across devices.

Real genius

The real genius, though, is that Firebase can act as kind of a gateway to the Google Cloud Platform, where customers can rent supercomputing power and services from the search giant just by punching in a credit card.

After all, Firebase is simple and powerful, but it won't be enough for every app. At a certain point, some customers are going to need some extra juice and flexibility. When that threshold is passed, it's designed to be easy to go from Firebase to the more robust, but more technically-demanding, Google Cloud Platform.

google firebase features

The official chart of Google Firebase features.

Maybe not every Firebase customer will upgrade to Google Cloud Platform. But to go back to Android apps, the situation is kind of like Clash of Clans on Android: Not every player needs to spend money to make it a smash hit; only a relatively few spending a lot of money make the whole enterprise worthwhile.

And so, it gives Google a path to cloud revenue growth, whether developers are writing their apps for Android, iOS, or just the web browser. No matter where they are, or whether or not they're making money from the Android app store, Google will help developers now, in the hopes that they pay up later.


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