Programmer Calls Out iOS as Adware

Posted on February 18, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, iOS with 55 Comments

Microsoft users often complain about advertising in Windows. But as a prominent Apple developer points out, iOS is even worse.

“Apple has resorted to insidious tactics to get [new subscribers for its $12 billion services business]: ads,” Steve Streza writes in The Paywalled Garden: iOS is Adware. “Lots and lots of ads, on devices that you [already] pay for. iOS 13 has an abundance of ads from Apple marketing Apple services, from the moment you set it up and all throughout the experience. These ads cannot be hidden through the iOS content blocker extension system. Some can be dismissed or hidden, but most cannot, and are purposefully designed into core apps like Music and the App Store.”

As Streza points out, there is only one term for this kind of unremovable advertising: Adware. And it makes iOS a lot less compelling as a platform. Unless, of course, you simply want to pony up and pay for all those services that Apple is tirelessly shilling these days.

And he’s right: Unless you pay for Apple’s services, you’ll be bombarded with ads all over iOS. It’s much worse than Windows, where at least some of the ads can be correctly termed as tips or suggestions. In iOS, Apple is simply trying to get you to spend more money. And it is doing it everywhere in the system.

The ads that Streza calls out include:

Apple Music. Ads everywhere, will full-screen pop-up ads for the Apple Music service. There are even Browse and For You tabs in the app UI that is nothing but an ad for the service if you don’t subscribe. And God help you if actually subscribe to Apple Music briefly and then cancel it: “Apple sends invasive push notifications asking you to resubscribe,” Streza writes. “These are on by default without a permission request. This is, of course, against the rules they lay out for other developers.” Classic Apple.

Apple TV+. The Apple TV app opens with an ad for Apple TV+. The app home screen has TV+ ads everywhere, plus ads for individual TV+ shows. Ads appear next to shows you purchased from Apple, and elsewhere. “The Apple TV+ ads are huge and inescapable,” Streza notes. “Again, the TV app’s notifications are enabled by default with no permission request.”

Apple News+. “If you open a story on one of Apple’s partners like the Wall Street Journal, the screen it takes you often has a large banner ad at the top of the screen for the Apple News+ service. This seems to be intermittent, but it cannot be dismissed, hidden, or disabled.” Stories in the feed open sometimes as an ad for News+, with no indication in the feed that that will happen; others are behind the News+ paywall and do have a tiny Apple News+ logo indicating that. Once again, this app has notifications turned on by default.

Apple Card. If you open the Wallet app, which is on the first home screen by default, you see a “giant ad that’s nearly half the screen” for Apple Card. And every time you add a credit/debit card to Apple Pay, you are asked if you want to sign up for Apple Card instead. Seriously.

Apple Arcade. The main Arcade app tab is just an ad for this service, and it can’t be turned off. Elsewhere in the app, Apple Arcade games get more prominent visual treatment, larger videos, and bigger download buttons than other games.

App Store. When you search in the App Store app, you get paid ads at the top of all search results. “Apple … make money by extorting developers and showing you the wrong thing. If you search for a specific app, you will often not see that app in the first slot, unless the developer has paid for the privilege.”

I described the first ads in Windows—which appeared in Windows 8—as a slippery slope, and the addition of more and more ads in the platform has proven my theory. But iOS is even worse: it’s a cliff, not a slope. Streza correctly sees this as I did.

“As time goes on, these ads are going to get worse, not better,” he writes. “Apple is making the user experience provably worse to boost growth at all costs … Apple is going to expand its services, both breadth and depth, and the adware problem is only going to get worse, unless people call out Apple for what they’re doing. And yet, this issue is rarely talked about, likely because many of the people who cover Apple inevitably subscribe to some or all of these services. Gadgets like smart TVs and ebook readers are frequently criticized for their annoying, invasive advertisements despite their (often large) upfront price. It’s time for the tech community to recognize that Apple is no longer designing their products for a great experience, but as upsells to get you into the paywalled garden.”


And for whatever it’s worth, this is what it looks like when you care about the quality of a platform you support. You don’t just cheer the platform maker on, you call them out when they do wrong.

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