Publishers developing apps for mobile and tablet devices have some choices among analytics service providers—as well as some strategic decisions about how that data will be used.

Developers can embed third-party measurement software that is integrated and shipped with the app and tracks a variety of usage patterns. The landscape of service providers ranges from outfits like Omniture, WebTrends and Google Analytics, to smaller firms such as Flurry, Localytics and Motally.

The bigger providers offer mobile measurement as an add-on to the Web-measurement services publishers may already be getting from them. “It basically prices the same way as your fixed Internet,” says Eric Peterson, senior partner and founder of Web analytics consulting firm Web Analytics Demystified. “You’re tracking events, pages views or clicks, but you basically pay the same rate for mobile apps.”

The smaller firms, and Google Analytics, offer free measurement capabilities as well as more robust, fee-based enterprise versions. Localytics, for example, bases their enterprise pricing on the number of active users in any given month. This number can fluctuate, and publishers tend to begin with the free services to benchmark usage before upgrading to an enterprise-level service.

What Gets Measured?

Metrics are similar to what publishers have been tracking on the Web, plus a few extra unique to the mobile platform: unique users, unique sessions, type of device, OS version, as well as location-based metrics.

There are three macro areas to focus on, recommends Peterson:

Interaction Rate: This is the rate of people who have downloaded the app and actually use it. If your app produces a high volume of dynamic content, you’d want to see a corresponding interaction rate.

Engagement Rate: The next step beyond interaction. What are users looking at and reading? You want to track what sections of content users are reading, how many stories within that section are getting read, and so on.

Feedback: This, says Peterson, is what more publishers should be doing. “Have a feedback mechanism,” he says. “Give users an opportunity to have that conversation in the app and then measure the net negative and positive feedback.”

There are plenty of ways to drill deeper—what’s getting read, which writers are the most read, and so on—but the platform is so new, publishers should for now be concentrating on what works and what doesn’t.

Transparency and Participation

Sarah Ohrvall, who just swapped her leadership role at Bonnier’s Swedish R&D group to head up R&D for the U.S. division, has taken a dual approach to analytics. Ohrvall has spearheaded Bonnier’s development of the Mag+ platform, which Popular Science uses for its iPad edition and which also has its own analytics capabilities baked right in—a prescient move given the recent problems posed to developers by Apple which is currently, according to the language in its Developer Agreement for its upcoming 4.0 operating system, barring third-party in-app measurement software.

Ohrvall says analytics can work to the benefit of the publisher and the consumer. She’s looking forward to a day where users can present a “media consumption profile.” In other words, the analytics that are collected on the back end to help drive content, usage and design decisions for the publisher can also be used to enhance user experience and identity, creating a social aspect around content consumption. “Creative publishers can display that data in an interesting way to the consumer,” she says. “We’re trying to find ways to collect analytics that will be a benefit to the user—interesting usage patterns and behaviors that they can show and compare with their friends to see what other people are reading and doing.”

More Than Just Metrics

Measuring key interaction and engagement metrics is one thing, says Ohrvall, but those will only go so far. “Of course you need metrics, but [time spent] won’t give you all the right numbers. You can measure what they do, but you can’t see what they don’t do and want to do. This is completely new. We need to understand the behavior behind the numbers,” she says.

In that sense, Ohrvall has set a priority to learn about behavior in a context outside of the device itself—in the inherently participatory Web. The transparency of Mag+ carries over to product development as well. Product videos have been posted to the Web. Bloggers are given a peek at production and encouraged to offer opinions and foster discussion. Meanwhile, Ohrvall is watching the conversation among the Web community closely. “We’re getting lots of useful feedback. That’s the main way of moving forward since we’re in such an early stage,” she says. “We’re tapping into people’s understanding of the media and their reactions to using it.”

On top of that are layered the quantitative tactics and focus groups. “The Web has evolved into a participatory culture and there are ways to use that,” says Ohrvall.