Opinion: Advertising in Apple's apps has many disadvantages, but also advantages (if Apple does it right)


Users buy Apple products for a variety of reasons. One finds user-friendliness important, the other buys it mainly because of a strong focus on privacy. The same goes for using Apple's own apps. Where many third-party apps show random advertisements (which can possibly be bought off), you will not find them so quickly at Apple itself. This gives you peace of mind, because you know exactly what you are getting. That is also the price: for an iPhone you pay much more than an average Android device, where there is less focus on privacy. An ad-free environment is therefore very important. But Apple is still looking for ways to show (more) advertisements in their own apps. This immediately leads to the necessary discussions. This is certainly justified, but there is also a positive side.

Ads on my iPhone? This is what's going on

To make it immediately clear what exactly is going on: you don't have to worry that you will suddenly see an advertisement on your home screen for a secret trick to remove earwax. Or that you receive irrelevant push messages in which a certain product is promoted. According to recent reports, it only involves ads within Apple's own apps, for ads that match the app they're in. Also keep in mind that this is only a rumor for now. Nothing official has been announced yet, and we don't know yet how Apple will build in the ads. If they go through with it at all.

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'Apple wants more advertising in its own apps: Maps, Books and more'

In the App Store we are already used to paid advertisements for all kinds of apps. Now Apple is said to be planning to extend this to other apps like Maps and Podcasts as well.

How Apple now displays commercials

To determine the disadvantages and advantages, it is important to look at how Apple now displays advertisements. Apple is strongly against advertisements in which you are tracked outside the app in which you see the advertisement. Since iOS 14.5, developers have to ask users for permission to track them via app tracking (App Tracking Transparency). You can indicate here that you do not want to be tracked, so that your data remains within the app. Apple does not plan to build such tracking ads into its own apps. It therefore seems that Apple wants to offer a more privacy-friendly way of advertising. Also as a kind of compensation for lost income by limiting tracking ads. Evidence of this can be found in the App Store, where advertisements can already be seen.

In the App Store, advertisements for apps that match your preferences and the search term appear on the Search tab and after entering a search term. But it's always ads for apps that are approved in the App Store. So it's just ads for apps. This advertising space has been purchased by the developer of the relevant app, who would like to appear as advertising when entering a certain search term. So they pay a certain amount to Apple, hoping to get more users. The advertisements are also clearly recognizable. This gives a good idea of ​​how Apple plans to do this in the future. As far as I'm concerned, that has a number of disadvantages, but also advantages.

Disadvantages of Apple's commercials

The biggest drawback is that the ads often get in the way. Speaking for myself, I find that when I search the App Store I automatically skip the ads shown. I immediately scroll down to go to the next real search result. I've actually been doing the same thing for years when searching on Google. I don't even look at the ad results anymore. The advertisements therefore cause some noise, so that you have to make more effort to find what you are looking for. So clumsy.

Another disadvantage is that the search results seem less sincere due to the advent of advertisements. After all, someone has bought the space to appear as a search result, which does not always yield the best results. And while the ads in the search results are currently easy to spot, that's less the case in the ads that Apple has recently been testing in the Today tab. There is no blue box, just a little word “Ad” (or “Advertising” in Dutch). Where the Today tab previously only consisted of apps specially selected by Apple based on quality, it can now suddenly contain suggestions that are less sincere. That's not the quality you're used to and not what you'd expect from Apple.

Another drawback is that with these ads, Apple gives developers the opportunity to see some information about you, even if this is a more privacy-friendly way than the ad tracking on other apps and websites. After all, a developer sees that you have tapped on his ad after entering a search term. Apple also uses data from your device. Think of the device type or the provider you use. Even if it is little, you still give away a bit of privacy. Apple does take steps to protect your privacy. This way you are divided into groups and no individual profile is built up. You can disable these personalized advertisements. As a result, you only see less relevant advertisements. The number of advertisements remains the same.

Advantages of Apple's commercials

Assuming Apple is going to use roughly the same advertising method as it does in the App Store, there are a number of benefits as well. Take Apple Maps as an example. I'm a big fan of Apple's navigation app, although there is a clear difference in quality in the points of interest (so-called POIs) when you compare it to Google Maps. Information about restaurants, shops and other locations is significantly better in Google Maps. But advertisements in Apple Maps can actually improve the quality of the app.

According to the sources, Apple plans to show advertisements in the Apple Maps search results, similar to the App Store. If you search for “Italian restaurant” in Apple Maps, an advertisement will appear at the top of the search results of a restaurant that has purchased that advertising space from Apple. That makes the restaurant a lot more visible with a greater chance that more people will go there and have a bite to eat. But then the restaurant must of course ensure that the information about its shop is correct. It does not make much sense for many shops and restaurants to invest time and energy in correctly displaying the information in Apple Maps, because this is used (in the Netherlands) a lot less than Google Maps. But if there is something in return in the form of advertising (with the chance of more run-up), there is suddenly a reason to invest in correct information. More correct information results in a qualitatively better app.

Will we soon be seeing ads for shops and restaurants in Apple Maps search results?

Of course there are other ways to Apple to improve the quality of, for example, Apple Cards, for example with a kind of reward system that rewards you as a user for passing on errors in Apple Cards. But with advertisements you put the matter in the hands of the stores themselves.

Incidentally, this also poses a problem. Where Apple has insight into the quality of an app that is advertised in the App Store, this obviously does not apply to a random restaurant or store. There's no way Apple can send someone from the Apple Maps team to a restaurant to see if the food there is really that good. Apple can only rely on its own rating system in Apple Maps, which is still used by very few people in the Netherlands.

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In addition to Apple Maps, Apple would also consider the ads for the Books and Podcasts app. In both apps this could be the same as in the App Store, so you will only find advertisements for other books. However, the question is whether this is just as useful. In the App Store you are more likely to search for a type of app (photo editing, for example), while in the Books and Podcasts app you are much more focused on the actual title. It can help you discover new books or podcasts that you might not otherwise find.

In theory, Apple's commercials could also provide another benefit. Should this prove a financial success, developers and companies could choose to invest less in tracking ads (which also track you across sites and other places) and more in Apple's more privacy-friendly ads. Due to the arrival of the App Tracking Transparency, the income from advertisements that can follow you everywhere has decreased somewhat. If Apple's more privacy-oriented advertising in its own apps can absorb that loss, I'm not necessarily saying no. The fewer tracking ads, the better. I would prefer no ads at all. But if Apple's approach can reduce the number of commercials that can follow you everywhere and nowhere, I'm fine with that.

Advertising is okay, but with a few conditions

I am not necessarily against showing advertisements, for example in a way that is now also done in the App Store. But there are a few conditions that I believe Apple must meet:

  • Advertisements should not track you individually or share traceable information about you
  • They should be clearly recognizable and not be too present
  • Ads should only be relevant (for example, advertisements for books if you search in the Books app)
  • Advertisements must be quality checked by Apple

The pitfall, however, is in some of these conditions. If Apple will allow ads in more of its own apps, it will be almost impossible to check all of them for quality. This is still manageable in the App Store, but how is Apple going to arrange that in its other apps? Therein lies the big challenge for Apple.

What do you think? Do you see ads in Apple's own apps (as it is now in the App Store)? Or do you give up immediately?

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