Content blocking, which is what Apple is calling their ad blocking feature on iOS 9, has been the focal point of a lot of discussions ever since Apple announced its inclusion in iOS 9. There’s a war that’s been waging on for some time on the desktop between content producers and content consumers. In order to provide free content, websites use advertisements to keep the lights running and to pay their writers. Sadly, some of these ads are obtrusive, unsightly and cause pages to load slowly. This has caused content consumers to find ways to block these ads using browser plugins. With iOS 9, Apple is moving the war into the mobile space.
I know that Apple isn’t trying to hurt the internet. It’s easy to see that Apple is making this move to hurt Google. For all of 2014, Google made $11.8 billion in mobile search revenue alone. iOS mobile search revenue accounted for $9 billion which is 75 percent of their mobile search revenue. Apple is doing whatever it takes to hurt Google’s bottom line while improving the search experience for their users. Incidentally, by trying to hurt Google, Apple is also hurting the internet in a big way.
As previously mentioned, content on the internet is largely free because of advertising. As ad blocking becomes more widespread, revenue for websites will fall off and writers won’t be able to make a living providing free content online. The irony here is that, while you’re blocking ads to improve the content experience, at some point there may not be any content to experience when your favorite website decides that being an online writer is no longer profitable or worth the time and energy.
But that’s that.
My focus for this piece isn’t about how Apple and ad blockers hurt the web. There’s something that’s been bothering me ever since news of iOS 9 content blockers have spread. Apple is making it seem as if they have taken an all or nothing approach on ad blocking and cleaning up user experience. After diving a bit deeper into content blocking on iOS 9, I discovered that ad blocking works across the board except where Apple and Facebook is producing content. That’s right. Ads found in Apple News (which is an app) and the Facebook apps won’t be blocked. I think it’s also important to emphasize that Apple is taking a 30 percent revenue share with ads that are displayed through their news app which are unblockable.
This leads to the most important question of them all:
Will Apple allow content blocking in apps?
The answer? They already do! For now, content blocking is handled by Safari which is Apple’s browser for iOS. However, anyone making a browser that wants to include it in the App Store has to use Webkit which is the framework Safari is built off of. That means any browser found in the App Store will have the functionality to support content blocking. Furthermore, according to Apple’s developer documentation, an app using the SFSafariViewController has access to Safari features such as Reader, AutoFill, Fraudulent Website Detection, and content blocking.
So content blocking currently happens with limitations within apps. The scariest part is that ads are unblockable for Apple apps and Facebook apps even if they use SFSafariViewController. That leads me to wonder if content blocking may make its way to apps on a wide scale since Apple has already created a way to make themselves and a big partner immune to the happening.
In the back of my mind, there’s signs that this won’t ever happen. That’s because, like Google, Apple also has an advertisement share program with content creators for iOS. iAD as it’s called is Apple’s version of Adsense for iOS. If Apple were to fully implement adblocking into apps, this would hurt Apple, too. Would it hurt Apple as much as Google? Not a chance. That’s why I’m fifty-fifty on the matter. There’s a few ways Apple could go about this. The best of which, Apple could make it so that content blockers only block non-Apple served ads in apps. This would cut off the supply flow to Google while increasing their’s. Apple could even take this a step further and offer fast, non-obtrusive and non-tracking ads for websites that are also unblockable in iOS 9 for websites.
That’s where I’m at with this. It will be interesting to see how Google plans on responding to this. Either way, expect this to remain a huge focal point throughout 2015.