Apple is the greatest chess player on Earth. They make the best and most calculated moves, offensive and defensive. Sometimes they release a new product or feature and most people are confused, unsatisfied, or disgruntled, failing to see the long term play. Then the following year or so, Apple releases another product or feature and it all makes sense. Their master plan is revealed.
In the context of the default News app that’s shipping with iOS 9, Apple is finally putting the last pieces in place for a circle of products, features, and developer technologies that could put a solid dent in the bottom line of companies built on web based advertising business models.
Apple is building on chess moves they’ve made since the release of the iPhone. The iPhone, like all of Apple, is a walled garden. Apple controls the default web browser, Safari, in addition to the entire user experience. Features like “Limit Ad Tracking” and others have been a part of iOS for a bit, but with iOS 9, Apple is releasing a new feature called Content Blocking that will ship with Safari and that is accessible by developers in the new Safari View Controller.
The big idea behind Content Blocking is that it’s possible to add something to the experience of viewing a webpage by taking something away.
– Classic Apple marketing. Ricky Mondello from Introducing Safari View Controller, Session 504, WWDC 2015.
Content blocking allows any app to write a description of web content to be blocked by Safari View Controller as a user browses the web. In the example given during the developer session, Ricky Mondello – Safari and WebKit Engineer – shows how Content Blocking can remove “click bait headlines,” and he states that it can also block the loading of all images and all scripts from third party domains. What’s more is that when a user enables Content Blocking in their Safari settings, those settings will automatically transfer into an app’s implementation of Safari View Controller.
In simple terms, what this means is that Content Blocking is a threat to advertising revenue generated through clicks and views from mobile Safari. I mostly dislike ads, so I will definitely use Content Blocking. This is a threat to the revenue model of publishers who rely on mobile Safari based advertising. But have no fear, publishers; Apple has slapped your right cheek only to kiss you on the left because here comes News, News Publisher, and iAd to save the day! Check 👑
With its announcement of iOS 9, Apple has previewed its newest default news reader, “News,” which has an integrated monetization scheme using iAd, Apple’s advertising platform that was released in 2010.
Monetization is made simple with iAd, Apple’s advertising platform. Earn 100% of the revenue from ads you sell, and 70% when iAd sells ads for you. iAd provides campaign management, targeting and reporting capabilities that help drive your business.
All the while, Apple is on a questionable Privacy crusade talking down on web advertising based companies like Facebook and Google, increasing users’ desire to use features like Limit Ad Tracking and Content Blocking.
Some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information… They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong.
– Tim Cook at EPIC dinner June 1, 2015. Source: TechCrunch.
You can start to see what a powerful play Apple is making against web based advertising companies like Google. With Content Blocking, Apple is putting pressure on publishers to find new ways to market towards Apple’s hundreds of millions of users. With News, News Publishers, and iAd, Apple is providing an elegant and integrated solution for publishers to do just that. And with its loud public stance on Privacy, Apple is raising awareness and influencing users’ decisions to use ad blocking features.
Based on the foregoing, Facebook’s release of Instant Articles starts to make even more sense. With Instant Articles, Facebook is encouraging to publish content directly on Facebook, not on the web, where we now know mobile Safari and Safari View Controller will block ads. But Facebook only controls the News Feed, unlike Apple who owns the entire stack, so Facebook’s potential power over publishers is not as strong. With Instant Articles, however, Facebook buys itself more time from Apple’s offensive because Apple can’t prevent ads on Instant Articles, unless it changes its App Guidelines – doubtful – disallows Facebook mobile – highly doubtful – or takes Facebook on in social – Maybe.