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Tech Talk

Apple endangers shameless mobile advertisements

10/21/2015

In life, few things are as passively satisfying as “blocking” out the little annoyances. Telemarketers calling during dinner? We gripe for a second then simply say, “Please put me on the ‘do not call’ list.” Have an embarrassing family member on Facebook who you can’t unfriend? Well, bypass that social media trainwreck by blocking him or her from your newsfeed. And just as society-wide rage reaches a fever pitch with an irritant, someone releases a tool to circumvent it. Today, the most prominent digital irritant bombarding our lives is, without question, mobile advertisements. And almost like clockwork, Apple has swooped in to save the day, allowing ad-blocking applications to be developed for its iOS mobile operating system.

Take a minute to consider how many advertisements you encounter on just one site. There are banner ads, little videos that autoplay (sometimes with sound — i.e., “the Internet plague”), assorted tiny ad icons and logos, areas that look like content but are secretly ads (commonly referred to as “native advertisements”), and worst of all, the full-screen ad. As obstructive as these ads might be on your mobile device’s small screen, they keep the lights on at that company and pay its employees’ salaries. As great as it is to freely consume news and entertainment, and converse at all times through the compact computer in your pocket, someone has to pay for it.tech 10.22 copy

Advertising is the lifeblood of the publishing world. Actually, advertising has become the fuel to several industry fires with the rise of the online freemium marketplace. Freemium products are goods and services that come in several flavors: ad-free at a cost, ad-light at a reduced cost, or ad-heavy. Social media, mobile gaming, streaming media and the mountain of others could exist without advertising, but with subscribers footing the substantial bill.

If a website has scaled past niche-tool to industry-wide reach, the opportunity might eventually be provided for users to pay for an ad-free experience. But unveiling such a fee can be dicey. The ethics of online consumption are just simply messed up. Few things that seem free can ever successfully graduate to a pay model. There are simply too many alternatives. In 2011, when The New York Times moved to a paywall, gated content website, the entire news world sat quietly praying it would work. However, the publishers who tried to do the same subscriber-only online move quickly realized they’re not the Times and lost a lot of eyeballs and revenue. Until someone comes up with a better model, companies that aren’t The New York Times must rely on ads and pray to the Gods of Profit that ad-blockers don’t cause them to implode.

Apple doesn’t care about advertisers; it cares about user experience. Ads impede a pleasant iPhone experience, so after years of debate, the company baked in ad-blocking capabilities into the latest version of its mobile operating system. Developers can now program applications that sniff out advertisements on websites, as well as in applications and mobile games. Given the iPhone’s status as the king of mobile phones, that is a lot of advertisements being blocked.

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No, Apple’s move won’t cause online advertising Armageddon. As has always been the case, programmers on the advertising end will simply have to innovate. While the days are certainly numbered for blatant and content-hindering ads, this certainly means the rise of deceptive native advertisements and online product placement. All Apple really has done is make Google and other ad delivery companies work a little harder. So as annoying as in-app and full-screen ads are, my concern is that this might be a situation where we end up missing the devil we know. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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