Thoughts on Apple’s supposed advertising war

June 11, 2010 at 6:46 pm (secondlife)

I’ve been watching apple’s strategy and they’re doing some interesting things people hate lately. 

  • iAds – a framework for doing advertising on the iPod/iPhone/iPad
  • Safari 5 Reader – for clearing clutter from websites you’re reading
  • Not implementing flash on iDevices – to annoy Adobe and keep “stability”

Many folk are upset about all of these. Google feels they’re locked out of apple’s devices on the advertising front. Adobe on the platform front. Advertisers in general due to reader functionality. It looks like Steve Jobs is playing “our way or the highway” on all these fonts – like he wants to own the lot. I think it may be simpler than that.

Steve Jobs hates ads. He’s got better things to do than be shouted at all day by advertisers. I tend to agree. So let’s look at these recent developments though that lens.


What to people do with flash?

  • They play flash games a bit
  • They watch video that is often already encoded in formats that don’t need flash to watch them
  • They get bombarded by the most obnoxious form of eye gouging, bandwidth sucking, animated advertising

So if flash was to disappear tomorrow we may miss Farmville, but not much else. For any utilitarian animation (infographics for instance) HTML5 will do fine in future. As for gaming there’s Unity and a bunch of other quite reasonable alternatives. We won’t miss the animated ads – advertisers will miss them. As for advertising itself… it’ll just have to shout less.

If you’re on a mobile device, with a mobile data plan, you’ll probably save money too. You pay for those high-bandwidth shouty ads, when calm, low-bandwidth ads would do.


The iDevices were slow to take on multitasking. This may be for good reason. A misbehaved background application sucks battery, and that’s an annoying thing in a mobile device. It also sucks other resources (such as cpu cycles), so the iPod would not have been nearly as successful as a gaming platform unless rogue background applications were reigned in. Now they DO have multitasking however… and it comes at a price. 

Any application which asks to sit in the background could potentially pop up something to alert you. This is where iAds comes in. Folk pay for ad free applications and services. Free applications and services often use advertising as a revenue model. This is fine on a single tasking system where only the app you’re using can spam you. on a multitasking system, seemingly inactive applications can push advertising to you. This may not be so great.

Unless there’s a framework in place to ensure the device user knows exactly why something has appeared on their screen, it’s likely they’ll blame the platform. So if popup ads suddenly appear out of nowhere, and nothing tells you where they come from, you may get rather frustrated. Any foreign advertising api could potentially do this.

So iAds is a framework to box in advertising and ensure it plays nice. I’m sure you’ll hear it spun as another apple try at total market monopoly, but it’s a framework. It’ll reign in advertising on iDevices so it obeys familiar user interface conventions. When you see an ad, you’ll know it’s an ad, and why you’re seeing it. This is important stuff. 


Ah the magic button that hides advertising – or does it. To use the reader button you wait for a web page to load first. Then if it’s legible and non-shouty you just read it…. If however it’s full of visual spam and your head feels like exploding, you hit the reader button and woosh, it becomes clean text. Now folk complain this hides advertising and rips sites of the money from their ad impressions…. but let’s unravel that.

  • You’ve already seen the ads – they didn’t lose the money from those impressions
  • You only bother to use reader if a website is obnoxious
  • If you want to continue to browse the site you exit reader, and continue viewing any ads they show you
  • If a website splits long articles into pages that are too short to read on their own in order to get more ad impressions, and is shouty, it deserves to lose subsequent impressions

I’ve been using tools like safari reader for a while now. I read a lot of stuff on the web for my work. Some sites are so full of visual noise that it helps to rip the articles out to a legible format to avoid distractions. Usually that’s when there are bobbing bald heads or car crashes of flashing dollar signs happening in the side bar. It’s not like I don’t see their ads – I’m hyper aware of them enough to want to run away to a quiet corner and poke my eyes out with a pencil. These tools don’t stop you seeing ads. They stop you from enduring them. They stop hideous ads from forcing you to click away from the site. 


I figure this isn’t a war on advertisers, nor an attempt at monopoly. I figure it’s all about keeping advertising sane. We killed the blink tag on websites long ago, only to replace it by the most heinous monster imaginable – animated popup advertising. Most of the internet bandwidth and computing power we use up browsing the web is eaten by this monster. But I’ve beaten the monster… it doesn’t bother me any more. 

I filter just about all the advertising that comes into my machine. I hardly see any of it. That is my shameful secret – and I do feel bad about it. So bad in fact that, when I find a site useful or interesting. When it has good content. When it does stuff I want to support – good news sites, small developers, interesting blogs, great services and wotnot – I TURN ADVERTISING ON. When a site doesn’t badger me like a shameful hussy, I drop the filter of trust and let that advertising into my life. I enjoy it’s quiet background chatter. It ads color to the net. But when advertising mugs me, it gets a face full of mace.


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