Introducing Firebase Remote Config

JUN 03, 2016
Posted by Todd Kerpelman, Firebase Developer Advocate and Safa Alai, Remote Config Product Manager

Turning a great app into a successful business requires more than simply releasing your app and calling it a day. You need to quickly adapt to your user’s feedback, test out new features and deliver content that your users care about most.

This is what Firebase Remote Config is made for. By allowing you to change the look and feel of your app from the cloud, Firebase Remote Config enables you to stay responsive to your user’s needs. Firebase Remote Config also enables you to deliver different content to different users, so you can run experiments, gradually roll out features, and even deliver customized content based on how your users interact within your app.

Let's look at what you can accomplish when your wire up your app to work with Remote Config.

Update your app without updating your app

We've all had the experience of shipping an app and discovering soon afterwards that it was less than perfect. Maybe you had incorrect or confusing text that your users don't like. Maybe you made a level in your game too difficult, and players aren't able to progress past it. Or maybe it was something as simple as adding an animation that takes too long to complete.

Traditionally, you'd need to fix these kinds of mistakes by updating those values in your app's code, building and publishing a new version of your app, and then waiting for all your users to download the new version.

But if you've wired up your app for Remote Config in the Firebase platform, you can quickly and easily change those values directly in the cloud. Remote Config can download those new values the next time your user starts your app and address your users' needs, all without having to publish a new version of your app.

Deliver the Right Content to the Right People

Firebase Remote Config allows you to deliver different configurations to targeted groups of users by making use of conditions, which use targeting rules to deliver specific values for different users. For example, you can send down custom Remote Config data to your users in different countries. Or, you can send down different data sets separately to iOS and Android devices.

You can can also deliver different values based on audiences you've defined in Firebase Analytics for some more sophisticated targeting. So if you want to change the look of your in-app store just for players who have visited your store in the past, but haven't purchased anything yet, that's something you can do by creating Remote Config values just for that audience.

Run A/B Tests and Gradual Rollouts

Remote Config conditions also allow you to deliver different values to random sets of users. You can take advantage of this feature to run A/B tests or to gradually rollout new features.

If you are launching a new feature in your app but aren't sure if your audience is going to love it, you can hide it behind a flag in your code. Then, you can change the value of that flag using Remote Config to turn the feature on or off. By defining a "My New Feature Experiment" condition that is active for, say, 10% of the population, you can turn on this new feature for a small subset of your users, and make sure it's a great experience before you turn it on for the rest of your population.

Similarly, you can run A/B tests by supplying different values to different population groups. Want to see if people are more likely to complete a purchase if your in-app purchase button says, "Buy now" or "Checkout"? That's the kind of experiment you can easily run using A/B tests.

If you want to track the results of these A/B tests, you can do that today by setting a user property in Firebase Analytics based on your experiment. Then, you can filter any of your Firebase Analytics reports (like whether or not the user started the purchase process) by this property. Watch this space for news on upcoming improvements to A/B testing.

A Fabulous Improvement in Retention

Many of our early partners have already been using Firebase Remote config to test out changes within their app.

Fabulous, an app from Duke University's designed to help people adopt better lifestyle habits, wanted to experiment with their getting started flow to see which methods were most effective for getting their users up and running in their app. They not only A/B tested changes like images, text, and button labels, but they also A/B tested the entire onboarding process by using Remote Config to determine what dialogs people saw and in what order.

Thanks to their experiments with Remote Config, Fabulous was able to increase the number of people who completed their onboarding flow from 42% to 64%, and their one-day retention rate by 27%.

Research has shown that an average app loses the majority of their users in the first 3 days, so making these kinds of improvements to your app's onboarding process -- and confirming their effectiveness by conducting A/B tests -- can be crucial to ensuring the long-term success of your app.

Is Your App Wired Up?

When you use remote config Remote Config, you can supply all of your default values locally on the device, then only send down new values from the cloud where they differ from your defaults. This gives you the flexibility to wire up every value in your app to be potentially configurable through Remote Config, while keeping your network calls lightweight because you're only sending down changes. So feel free to take all your hard-coded strings, constants, and that AppConstants file you've got sitting around (it's okay, we all have one), and wire 'em up for Remote Config!

Firebase Remote Config is part of the Firebase platform and is available for free on both iOS and Android. If you want to find out more, please see our documentation and be sure to explore all the features of the Firebase SDK.