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Case Study

TextNow switches from Firebase to Embrace as it looks to continuously improve its ANR and mobile app data

Key Results

  • Improved visibility and debugging capabilities: TextNow was able to ensure their user session data appeared in near real-time by leveraging Embrace, leading to more effective debugging and faster issue resolution.
  • Enhanced data accuracy and analysis: TextNow eliminated the limitations of sampling and rate limiting by switching to Embrace, providing more complete and accurate data for in-depth analysis and issue tracking.
  • Optimized app performance: TextNow was able to utilize Embrace’s capabilities to differentiate startup behavior for different user flows, optimizing startup time, without being skewed by bot behavior, and improving overall app performance.

Customer

TextNow is on a mission to democratize reliable phone service.

Founded in 2009 by two college students looking to save money on their phone bills, TextNow’s goal is to help people connect with technology for free or as close to free as possible.

TextNow provides a comprehensive suite of communication services, including calling, texting, and data plans, with affordable and flexible options that cater to a wide range of customers.

“Our customer base is quite diverse, from people who don’t want to be locked into three-year data plans, to those who just need a little data here and there, or just want a more flexible approach to their phone service,” said Staff Software Developer for TextNow’s Architecture Team, Malachi de Ælfweald.

TextNow’s user-friendly app can be downloaded onto any compatible device, enabling instant access to calling and texting capabilities, ensuring that essential communication needs can be met without incurring additional costs.

Challenge

Originally leveraging a combination of Firebase and Fabric, TextNow’s team had to switch all of their mobile monitoring over to Firebase when Fabric was deprecated.

Relying solely on Firebase as a standalone tool quickly proved challenging for the TextNow team and resulted in a number of unforeseen issues, most notably:

  • Limited visibility and debugging capabilities: TextNow quickly noticed instances where Firebase would not display their user sessions or data for days. Embrace provided better visibility and ensured TextNow’s data was preserved, providing them with critical information to further improve debugging and issue resolution.
  • Sampling and rate limiting: Another issue Firebase presented as a standalone monitoring tool was its sampling and rate limiting of data. To maintain its reputation for high-quality user experiences, TextNow needs complete, accurate, and unsampled data, an important standard that Embrace meets.
  • Optimizing startup time and handling bot behavior: Communication apps like TextNow face a number of unique challenges, whether it’s their users’ diverse geographies and devices, or defending against bot behavior. When limited to just Firebase, TextNow quickly noticed differentiating between startup behavior for different user flows was more difficult. This made it challenging to optimize startup time effectively or quickly identify when bots were skewing the data and impacting app performance. Embrace offered the flexibility to track and analyze startup behavior for different user flows and provided better tools to deal with bot behavior.
From left to right: Screenshots of TextNow's calling, messaging, and onboarding screens.

Solution

Overall, Embrace helped TextNow overcome these challenges by providing comprehensive and accurate session data, better debugging capabilities, and improved tools for analyzing and optimizing app performance.

“When we first started looking at Embrace, one thing that caught my eye was the promise of not rate limiting or sampling our data,” said Malachi. “With that, I already knew this was a homerun. Before Embrace, we were getting so little data that when there was a big issue affecting thousands of customers, we quickly realized we were very limited when trying to track down what was missing.

“We never have to worry about that with Embrace.”

For Malachi and his team, there are a number of features that turn access to unsampled data into access to invaluable insights, making their jobs easier and their app experience more enjoyable for their users. Chief among those features are Embrace dashboards, ANR reporting, and user session insights.

Embrace dashboards and ANR reporting

Embrace dashboards offer TextNow important and timely data that helps them enhance app performance and their user experience.

“I probably have created more dashboards than any user at TextNow,” Malachi said. “For example, we have a vital monitoring dashboard where, whoever is doing the release ownership duties of the day, they go to that dashboard and then get a quick snapshot of everything they need to know about the state of the app.”

The custom dashboards in Embrace allow TextNow to track important metrics and KPIs, such as session duration, crash rates, network performance, and ANR (application not responding) rates. These dashboards provide a comprehensive view of the app’s health and help identify any issues or bottlenecks that may arise.

Embrace’s ANR reporting specifically helps TextNow in thoroughly monitor, analyze, and address any ANR issues promptly.

“What’s really nice about Embrace’s flame graph approach to ANR monitoring is when we, for example, click the top ANR, we can get a holistic view of how much of a priority different stacks are in that ANR, and also how they’re related to each other,” Malachi said.

By analyzing ANR data in this way, TextNow can identify the root causes of ANRs, such as slow database queries or network delays, and take proactive measures to optimize performance.

Furthermore, Embrace provides detailed session data, which is particularly useful for TextNow’s customer care team, who can now gain meaningful insights about the user journey, without risking user privacy.

Overall, Embrace dashboards empower TextNow with real-time and actionable insights, enabling them to proactively optimize their app’s performance, enhance the user experience, and deliver a reliable and high-quality communication service to their customers.

User session insights

What makes Embrace tooling so effective is the data that underlies it.

With an unsampled view of their mobile data, TextNow can see a play-by-play of every user session. And, since Embrace captures 100% of user session data, TextNow can analyze their app performance like never before.

“Startup time is a really important metric for us, and everyone captures start up time,” Malachi said. “The thing is everyone captures it as one single metric and there are a lot of problems that come along with that surface-level analysis.”

For example, he said, when you look at startup time for all sessions at once, and try to optimize around that metric, what you could end up doing is accidentally optimizing for bot traffic. For a communications app like TextNow — who’s constantly on the lookout for fraudulent activity on their app — that can be a major problem for your brand and your business’s bottom line.

“With Embrace App Performance, we can break up startup time into each of the different user flows to see, for example, how long start up typically takes for a user that initiates a cold start, vs someone who launches the app from background, vs someone who opens the app via a push notification,” said Malachi.

The ability to analyze their traffic at this level has helped TextNow identify and mitigate fraudulent traffic, while ensuring the optimizations they make are for real users.

Build better mobile experiences with Embrace

For more than 10 million users, TextNow is their connection to the mobile world, so delivering a great user experience is really non-negotiable.

When the challenges of limited visibility, data inaccuracies, and an inability to differentiate between app starts, TextNow turned to Embrace.

Embrace helped optimize the way TextNow approaches mobile monitoring by offering unparalleled insights into their app’s performance. By eliminating the constraints of Firebase, Embrace provided TextNow with comprehensive and accurate data, enabling them to swiftly debug issues, analyze user behaviors, and optimize their app’s startup performance for real users.

Learn more about what Embrace can do for your mobile experience by requesting a demo today.

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