Twitter’s Crashlytics Goes Free—Part of Bigger Mobile Strategy?

I’ve been trying to get my head around Twitter’s recent acquisition of Crashlytics, the mobile app crash-reporting startup. It didn’t make immediate sense to everyone, which probably means there’s some real strategic thinking behind it.

Now we have another clue in the ongoing mystery. As of today, it looks like Cambridge, MA-based Crashlytics is making its software free across the board, even to big companies that typically pay a monthly fee to help keep their apps running smoothly. (Crashlytics’ customers include Kayak, Expedia, Yelp, Groupon, PayPal, Square, Walmart, and, yes, Twitter.)

Since Crashlytics has become part of the San Francisco social-media machine, maybe it doesn’t need those revenues anymore. Maybe it just needs more widespread adoption—which it could gain by making its premium features available to all developers for free.

Look at its competitors: Crittercism, BugSense, and maybe soon, New Relic and other bigger players in app performance management (see Compuware, CA Technologies, HP, even Yottaa). Most of these companies are in the Bay Area, and there’s more money in this sector than I had realized; New Relic just raised $80 million. If Crashlytics’ product is as good as its team and customers say it is, making it free for everyone could change the competitive dynamics of the emerging app-management and bug-fixing market.

What all of this means for Twitter remains to be seen. But Crashlytics appears to be making a play to bring as many mobile developers as possible into the fold. (And by “mobile developers,” I really mean “developers” in the post-PC era.)

In any case, Twitter is clearly investing in the Boston area. Last week, I reported that its Crashlytics acquisition was for over $100 million in cash and stock, and that its purchase of Bluefin Labs, another Cambridge startup (this one in social-media analytics around TV) was close behind, at around $100 million. Taken together, that’s already a significant investment. We shall see whether the future holds even more.

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