Editorial

Apple is pushing its services, but iOS is not adware yet

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Apple has not turned iOS into adware, yet we do get get more notifications of services than we did. That's still a long way from having Mail's inbox showing us banner ads for golf games and dating sites, though.

There is an idea floating around — for which read "is on Twitter" — that says Apple's iOS is nothing more than adware. That Apple is using our dependence on our iPhones to serve up ads for its various services.

If your first reaction is that this is nonsense, and your second is that this is Apple, it's not Microsoft, still your third might be different. Once the idea is in your head, you do start thinking about how we are seeing more notifications about services. They are notifications, we dismiss them as we do anything else, but they are telling us about services so, yes, they are adverts.

The key part though, is in the argument that iOS is nothing more than adware. The argument turns on the words "nothing more," and it turns both ways.

On the pro-Apple side, "nothing more" is practically an insult because iOS is so very much more than an advert platform. However, on the anti-Apple side, disputing the phrase "nothing more" means accepting that iOS is at least a little like adware.

But we are in a world where waiting 6 seconds before we can skip a YouTube ad feels a long time. And speaking of which, you try persuading YouTube that you will never want its Music service, or that you're fine without music continuing after you'e left a tab.

Apple is doing what you would, too, and it's probably doing what it must. That doesn't mean we have to like it, but the notion that everything is over, iOS is just adware now, is pointless hyperbole.

Or, admittedly, it is for now.

Crossing a line

If I've ever had an advert in the Apple Music iOS app, I haven't noticed it. I did get bothered by Apple TV telling me that new episodes of shows were available on the BBC iPlayer, but they were all shows I'd previously searched for. And while how to switch them off is less obvious than you'd expect, I have turned off the lot.

The only ad-related issue that has given me pause, and made me change how I use my iPhone, is Apple News.

Left: a promo for Apple News+. Middle: a story you can read but also promotes subscribing. Right: a story you can't read without subscribing - and you don't know that until you get this far
Left: a promo for Apple News+. Middle: a story you can read but also promotes subscribing. Right: a story you can't read without subscribing - and you don't know that until you get this far

I'm in the UK where we had to wait many months for Apple News+ to arrive, but in the meantime I got quite addicted to the regular Apple News. Enough so that when the subscription service launched here, I signed up for the free trial and I kept going afterwards for several months.

Only, even when you pay for Apple News+, it was a little tedious how often you'd tap on a story that turned out to need a further subscription to the magazine it comes from. That plus the fact that I had so enjoyed the regular Apple News meant that I cancelled the subscription.

Yet the service has never been the same since. I don't mean that I now lack Apple News+ articles because of course I do, but the regular Apple News is not working the way it did before I subscribed.

Now a great number of articles it recommends to me turn out to require an Apple News+ subscription.

It may not be Apple trying to advertise me into submission, though. Apple News shows you articles based on what you've read before, so since I did read a lot of magazines when I had an Apple News+ subscription, that will have affected the algorithm.

Except, family members who only got Apple News+ because I had a family sharing subscription, are finding the same things. It's cut down all of our use of Apple News as a result.

Your mileage varies

Being in the UK, we don't yet have Apple Card. Being an Apple Music subscriber, I don't get told about great deals to do with free trial periods on Apple Music. So I haven't had any ads at all in my Wallet, and I don't recall ever seeing any in Apple Music. US colleagues report the same experience as me, so this isn't just my geography influencing Apple.

It's hard to know how else Apple can tell us about a new service than by presenting information about it.
It's hard to know how else Apple can tell us about a new service than by presenting information about it.

True, the Apple TV app is more prone to showing me things I don't want, but oddly, that does not mean it's showing me Apple TV shows.

If I actively want to watch an Apple TV show, then unless the very last thing I watched was from that service, it simply isn't pushed at me. I've got to scroll down at least past the Watch Next section and sometimes the What to Watch one as well.

To find a particular Apple TV show, you really have to know that it is exists first and then search for it. To get an ostensibly complete catalog of what's available takes a scroll and two taps.

So perhaps it's a case that if Apple is adware, it's not very good at it.

The end of iOS as we know it

None of us believe that we are susceptible to advertising, and every advertiser knows that we are. We can be susceptible for different reasons, though, and they can be good, bad and indifferent ways.

Telling me that a new episode of "Picard" is on Amazon Prime is not Apple pushing an advert, it is Apple notifying me of something I've expressed an interest in. I don't see that as Apple being either good or bad, it's just part of how my iPhone 11 Pro keeps me informed.

When Apple pushed a notification that says "Apple TV is here," that was an advert. I'm indifferent about it because it's a rare occurrence.

It's when it becomes more than a rarity, and much more about advertising instead of informing, then it does become bad. So when Apple, as it seems to me, effectively hobbles its free service by forever showing ads for Apple News+ instead of the story I want to read, that's bad.

Left: an ad for Apple Wallet. Right: a pushed notification for TV —  but that's not an Apple show, and it also pushed how to stop such notifications
Left: an ad for Apple Wallet. Right: a pushed notification for TV — but that's not an Apple show, and it also pushed how to stop such notifications

Yet it's bad advertising that has a decent chance of working. I'm currently annoyed enough about it that I don't want to resubscribe, but if Apple produces a bundled subscription that includes Apple News+, I'm likely to take it.

I've gone from an Apple News+ fan to a disgruntled user, and yet it wouldn't take much to tempt me back in — because I've been continually made aware of the service.

Enough already

Apple's future is in services and if it's to succeed, especially if it is to grow by the amount it's hoping to, customers have to be aware of its services and of how good they are. Notifications we can't prevent are annoying. Ads for a new Apple service that only appear when we go into, say, the Arcade section of the App Store, are fine.

As long-time Apple users, we might pay attention to the company's announcements and events, but most users do not. We can be reached by Apple unveiling some great new service, but most of its existing audience can't.

The way to reach these people and make them aware of services is to notify them on their devices. And whether you think Apple does that too much already, whether you're concerned about it or not, it's going to happen more.

Let me reset the Apple News algorithm, and give me more free iCloud space, and I'll put up with the odd notification.

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