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Ads won’t ruin the iPhone App Store – they might make it better

Apple sent a note this week to app developers confirming that more ads could hit the iPhone App Store in time for the holiday season. With the amount of advertising already permeating the modern internet, the news has raised fears that iPhone owners will soon find themselves browsing through a sea of ​​ads before they can find the app they’re looking for.

Anything can happen, so I can’t rule out the possibility that Apple could go overboard on this one. However, I remain cautiously optimistic that Apple’s extensive advertising initiatives won’t spoil the App Store experience. It might even improve it.

Apple’s advertising ambitions on the App Store

When you think of online advertising, Apple isn’t usually the first company that comes to mind. Most people wouldn’t even include it in the top five. Other tech giants like Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Amazon are usually the ones in the online advertising rankings.

After all, Apple is primarily regarded for its products: the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac, to name a few. Sure, it’s more recently started to expand into services like Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade, but they’re still consumer-facing subscription services. It’s quite different from advertising.

However, it may surprise you that Apple has been indulging in advertising for over a decade. It just wasn’t particularly successful. During the nascent days of the App Store in 2010, Apple created its own advertising network which it dubbed iAd.

With iAd, Apple’s goal was to provide a simple framework for developers to earn money by displaying ads in their apps. Apple would act as a middleman, arranging and supplying these ads – and taking a 40% cut in advertising revenue in exchange.

Don’t feel too bad if you’ve never heard of iAd. Despite being launched to much fanfare at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2010, iAd has quickly become something Apple probably wishes it could forget. Alas, iAd failed to gain any significant traction, slowly dying over the years before Apple finally pulled it out of its misery in 2016.

Announcements in the App Store today

Nevertheless, Apple refused to give up advertising altogether, and from the ashes of iAd it came up with a new idea: search for ads on the App Store.

Launched in 2016 under the name Apple Search Ads, the new service took a different approach. Instead of taking a cut of the third-party ads that developers run in their apps, Apple would sell ad spots directly to developers to help them promote their apps on the App Store.

Two iPhones showing search ads on the App Store.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

If you’ve ever opened the search tab in the App Store on your iPhone or iPad, you’ve probably noticed those search ads. They appear in two specific places: one at the top of the “Suggestions” section when you first open the search page, and another at the top of the results displayed after you search for something.

Apple clearly marks them with an “Ad” tag, so there’s no mistaking what you’re seeing, and the company has pretty restrictive rules about what developers can display in these ad spots. Most importantly, advertisements can only contain content from App Store approved product pages of the apps.

The same ads you know, but more

Apple’s approach is very conservative compared to most online ad networks, and there’s no reason to believe the company is about to change that stance, although it apparently plans to increase the number of places ads will appear on the App Store.

In July, Apple announced plans to display ads in two more places in the App Store: the central “Today” page and a new “You Might Also Like” section at the bottom of app product pages. individual.

At the time, Apple did not specify when these new commercials would launch. However, a publicity webinar invite sent out to developers this week hints that they may be coming soon.

I don’t know if a timeline for Apple’s new App Store ad placements had already been announced, but it looks like they’ll be live for the “holiday season” pic.twitter.com/drcgIAYlTo

— Eric Seufert (@eric_seufert) September 13, 2022

The post doesn’t go into too much detail, but the mention of “new locations coming soon” in the title suggests that might be the main focus of the webinar.

In a statement to several media outlets in July, Apple made it clear that it has no plans to change its policies regarding the management of advertising on the App Store.

“Apple Search Ads gives developers of all sizes the opportunity to grow their business,” an Apple spokesperson said. “Like our other ad offerings, these new ad placements are built on the same foundation – they will only contain content from the apps’ App Store-approved product pages and adhere to the same rigorous privacy standards.” In other words, the same ads will be shown; they will just be displayed in more places.

App promotion is a win-win scenario; Apple is raising money directly from developers to run ads while encouraging more spending on the App Store. Apple isn’t about to start running third-party ads on the App Store for things like deodorants and pet supplies any more than McDonald’s would advertise Whoppers.

Why am I not worried

If Apple follows through on its stated plans for these new commercials, there won’t be much to worry about. The Today page is a place for editorial articles written by the App Store team to help people discover new apps. A single entry, clearly labeled as an ad, would look more like a “sponsored story” than anything else.

App Store screen illustration

Similarly, the “You Might Also Like” section on individual App Store product pages would be at the very bottom of the page. This would put it under the list of other apps from the same developer. It’s a place so easily overlooked that I’m a bit skeptical that’s where it will land, but it’s also unlikely that Apple will encroach on a developer’s App Store page by placing the ad higher .

When it comes to online advertising, it’s also easy to paint with too wide a brush. Ads can be annoying, but when done correctly, they can be useful. Right now, Apple’s App Store search ads often highlight apps that might be worth a look, giving smaller indie developers a head start. Big tech companies don’t usually pay Apple for search ads on the App Store because they don’t need them. This means you’re more likely to see smaller apps and games you haven’t heard of before showing up in search ads rather than more mainstream apps like Netflix and Genshin Impact.

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