While the Kardashian sisters take their sibling rivalry to the upper echelons of the Apple App Store, there’s a new kind of app making its way to the top – ad blockers. And for that, we have iOS 9 to thank.
With the new iOS, Siri is probably smarter than a 5th grader and multitasking is simpler on iPad. However, it’s the operating system’s most undersold addition (it wasn’t mentioned in the keynotes) that is causing tectonic shifts in the paid app rankings. At just a day old, ad-blocking app Peace became the top-selling paid iOS app. Ad blockers are being bought seats on the app store gravy train by users eager for a painless mobile browsing experience.
Content (Revenue) Blocking
The new iOS 9 feature is called ‘Content Blocking’, in the same way that paying a man in a lab coat to make you feel like your brain is going to seep out of your gums is called a root canal. What it really is is another mortal threat to the digital publishing industry. Like they didn’t have enough to deal with already.
Apple now gives developers free reign to create extensions blocking pop-ups, images, cookies, and other such content on mobile sites. What the move does is give the ad-block app industry a firm foothold in Apple’s mobile environment, effectively eliminating earnings via views and clicks from Apple devices. I hear the collective scoff coming from Android partisans for having content blocking features since forever, but there’s more important things to discuss than played out rivalries.
Actually, the whole thing is most likely a new episode in said played out rivalry.
Apple’s ad-block advocacy comes in the same release as another seemingly minor update – Apple News. Co-incidence? Probably not.
Apple News supports ads. Not just does it support ads, these ads can’t be blocked. So while the rest of the digital publishing industry splits hairs over how to outsmart ad blockers, content producers signed up with Apple News are promised ad revenue (though they concede 30 percent of it to Apple for their troubles).
Google has shown an aversion for ad blockers in the past, going so far as to block them, because revenues made selling ad space is one of its primary income sources. It’s safe to say that there isn’t a single company out there that has managed to convert content into money the way Google has.
Google’s DoubleClick Solutions is the revenue management tool of choice for most content producers on the Internet. A lion’s share of all the ads you’ve ever seen online were served up via DoubleClick for Publishers. Google also runs the most popular service for programmatic ads – AdX. Together, the two give the search giant an iron grip over the ad revenue market on the Internet.
By introducing ad blockers in iOS 9, Apple has revealed the real power of proprietorship over a widely popular mobile ecosystem. Although its full extent is hard to forecast, Apple’s move is sure to register on Google’s income reports.
Though Apple’s content blocking feature may have its roots in its rivalry with Google, the situation is also impetus for publishers to rethink their monetization methods.
Let’s be honest – mobile ads are irksome at best and downright obnoxious on most occasions. So a rethink is in order. At this point, content producers really don’t have an option. Google may have their backs, but Apple customers constitute a majority of mobile and tablet users in the United States. Losing revenues from such a large section of readers isn’t something publishers can gloss over.
To get an idea of the quandary that is ad-blocking apps, aforementioned app Peace was pulled down from the App Store a few hours after it reached the top spot. In a post titled “Just doesn’t feel good,” developer Marco Arment explains that due to their current lack of sophistication, content blockers end up treating the good and bad kinds of ads in the same way. He goes on to say that apps in the niche need to develop a more nuanced approach in order to prevent penalizing publishers who play within the bounds of acceptable practices. Then there’s something about a Chinese philosophy of war, just to add that extra level of legitimacy to the case he’s making.
Advertisements have been around since before the digital age but still count as an important part of strategy in the Internet era. It’s now time technology caught up with advertising online, before blanket punitive measures put the lights out on innocent content producers.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.