EngineeringFebruary 10, 2015

SDKs for mobile marketers 101

Software Developer Kits (SDKs) are widely used by mobile developers. Learn what an SDK is and why it’s needed when working with different service providers

In particular, mobile has birthed an ecosystem of service providers that all require implementation of an SDK, but why?

Let’s begin with what an SDK is. SDK is an acronym for Software Developer Kit. SDKs are software that’s placed inside other software. Sometimes this is called a third party library.

In mobile, SDKs can primarily do two things:

  1. capture data for things like analytics or attribution.
  2. change the elements of the screen for things like A/B testing or personalization.

Common functions of mobile SDKs

The most common use of a mobile SDK is to consume first party in app data to power a platform. For instance, if you wanted to use Google Analytics for your app you would need to install the Google Analytics SDK so that Google Analytics could capture everything happening inside your app and power their analytics platform.

Based on what data you’d like to send Google Analytics you would need to drop in code snippets next to each data point you’d like captured. These code snippets make sure that when a user does X it’s sent to Google Analytics. The sum of all the code snippets comprises the SDK.

Without the Google Analytics SDK inside your app, you wouldn’t be able to pass your app data into their platform; this has been the industry standard to date. As the data automation platform for apps, mParticle is making it possible to integrate with a service provider server side instead of through the traditional directly embedded SDK (more on this later on).

SDK overhead

In theory, all this sounds fairly straight forward. But there are a handful of factors that make SDK implementations more complicated than they initially sound. The top 3 reasons SDKs can be difficult to deal with are:

  1. The time it takes to tag hundreds of in-app events with code snippets. Then the QA time it takes to make sure data is properly being captured, especially if you compound that over multiple SDKs.
  2. The inability to easily move your historical data from one platform to another platform, which creates high switching costs.
  3. As a marketer, you’re forced to interrupt product and development each time you want to try, switch or leverage a new service provider that involves an SDK implementation.
  4. Changing what data you want each downstream to collect means lots of updates to each SDK. For instance, if you decide you don’t want an SDK to collect email or private user information you need to go into your code and delete the snippet collecting the data…then you need to wait for app store approval for the change to live.

More mobile service providers = more SDKs
As more tools and mobile service providers come to market they come with their SDKs attached. A couple years ago the ecosystem looked fairly small with de facto solutions for things like analytics, attribution, and marketing automation, but today the ecosystem is fragmented with great new solutions coming to market at a fast pace.

Marketers will face a decision of integrating these SDKs directly or choosing to work with a data automation platform that will enable point and click server side integrations.

Where do mobile marketers look for solutions?

mParticle sees the industry standard of one off SDK implementations as a thing of the past. We’re building a way for marketers to instantly integrate with service providers through point and click simplicity. In addition, we’re helping marketing teams:

  1. Avoid waiting for app store approval each time they use a new service because mParticle enables server-side integrations.
  2. Instantly configure integrations by deciding how much and what types of data they want to send each provider.
  3. Finding value from services immediately through data replay.

If you’re building, tinkering or changing your mobile strategy you should consider what kind of speed and simplicity is required to execute on your strategy.

If you think the industry standard of constantly implementing SDKs feels broken, you’re not alone.

We’re building a better way and we’d love you to join us as we reach new industry standards with speed, data ownership, and simplicity.

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