You need to know if your app is having performance problems. Full stop.
Performance issues—like crashes or instances of high-latency—destroy your customer experience. Think back to a bad web or app experience you've had in the past. What did you do next? If you said leave the website or delete the app off your phone almost immediately, you're like most other consumers out there.
What is application performance monitoring?
Application performance monitoring (APM) is, simply put, a category of tools that helps you determine when and if something is going awry on one of your digital experiences or in your product. They help you identify issues faster and alert you to when problems are occurring, which leads to faster resolution and less impact on the customer. Win-win.
Why you need application performance monitoring (and why your customers will benefit too)
As mentioned, having visibility into your apps is critical both for a positive customer experience and for protecting your business. Without the right visibility, your customers could be, unbeknownst to you, running into issues that give them headaches and cost you revenue.
This problem compounds on mobile apps where the cost of customer acquisition is very high, and a negative customer experience not only risks churn but also creates the risk of negative reviews, which can deter new customers.
Ultimately, you can only fix what you can see, and you need the right tools to get visibility at scale. Traditionally, developers have relied on analytics data as a proxy for real-time visibility, but as the app landscape becomes more complex, developers are recognizing the need for specialized tools for monitoring. Enter the performance monitoring vendors …
Considerations for choosing a performance monitoring tool
There are a number of performance monitoring solutions, so it can be easy to get overwhelmed by choosing the right one. Not to fear, in this lesson, we'll help you understand the two broad categories of these SaaS tools and give you some tips on how to decide which tools are best suited for your requirements.
But before you embark on your journey to find an application monitoring tool using the above criteria, you first have to ask yourself two simple questions.
Do you need performance monitoring or error tracking?
An error tracking tool allows you to both automatically capture any user-facing errors (and sometimes internal errors) that make your app unusable, and report these errors for later inspection. This should be your first line of defense. A rule of thumb in customer success is that for every single user that writes in about an error, there are typically 26 more users who don't write in.
Error tracking tools will run diagnostics and aggregate errors to help you see which errors are happening and how often specific errors are happening. This makes it easier to understand why these errors are happening by de-obfuscating stack traces and surfacing trends so you can fix the bug that only affects iOS 7 users on cellular networks on T-Mobile in the USA.
However, not all issues escalate to the level of an error. For instance, you may ship some code that slows down page load times on cellular networks. It doesn't make your app unusable but makes it annoyingly slow enough that the user experience is ruined an users quit using your app. Performance monitoring uses automation to help you keep an eye on more fine-grained information so that your developers continue to improve your user's experience.
Do you prefer a tool that does it all or a focused tool that is best-in-class?
For instance, for our purposes, we prefer Bugsnag and Sentry for error reporting because that's the primary focus of these APM tools, and by fully investing in one area, they deliver a great experience. However, using multiple tools comes with the SDK bloat problem. All-in-one tools may make more sense for your business when you are truly using all of their various features. They will not only make your app smaller, but the integration between their various offerings will deliver even more value. Some tools also offer on-premises options for companies where security is a particular concern.
Typically, we recommend choosing the best tool for the job. However, some tools may offer both, which can be great for reducing SDK bloat. However, you should understand that this comes with the tradeoff that you may be selecting a tool that is not best in class.
9 Best Application Performance Monitoring Tools Compared
To make sense of where various tools on the market stack up against various dimensions (like whether they have mobile functionality or are open source), we built a helpful comparison chart:
Trends impacting the performance monitoring space
As you can see, many of the performance monitoring tools are being acquired by larger software solutions and are being integrated with other functionality into a single solution.
At the customer level, the biggest trend we see is that more customers are wanting to treat this data just like any other source of data in Segment. They want to join their application monitoring data with their other sources of customer data to determine how errors impact the customer experience. For example, you might want to do the following:
Join performance reports with Stripe data to measure revenue impact
Join crash reports with Zendesk data to understand the support cost of different bugs
Use crash data to create an audience to target with an email campaign
How Segment tackles this problem
While it's not our favorite thing to admit, we make mistakes too. And, because we know that, we've put performance monitoring tools in place to limit the customer impact.
Here's our approach: we use our own platform to track the Segment customer experience (CX) and to flag if the application experiences latency. We use analytics.js to match Sentry data with other integrations, like FullStory and Warehouses, giving us a much richer context on our customers. Understanding how, when, and for whom our app crashes has enabled Segment to iterate quicker and fix bugs that would be very difficult to reproduce otherwise. In this way, tasks that would be typically engineering-driven can be accomplished easily by our CX and product teams.
For more information on the performance monitoring tools that Segment offers, check out our catalog of integrations here.
Side note: Are you a performance monitoring tool that's interested in snagging a spot on this list? Get more information on Segment's partner program here.