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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Comments (55)

55 responses to “Programmer Calls Out iOS as Adware”

  1. jimchamplin

    Holy crap. I was so busy dealing with all the annoying bugs in 13 that I didn’t even notice the massive proliferation of ads.

    I miss iOS 6.

    • christian.hvid

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      iOS 6 is a little like Windows 7 - it was the last version that was visually coherent and where every feature was there for a reason. Not that I would want to go back to either of them, but it appears to me that every OS eventually gets to a point when it just spins out of control.

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to christian.hvid:

        It’s really true. Even macOS has finally reached that point. Catalina is a bloody mess, with Vista-style security prompts, halfbaked code, and don’t even get me started on the Catalyst debacle.

        Meanwhile I swear most Linux distros only have about 300 papercuts anymore. ?

    • skolvikings

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      You didn’t even notice them. Must be a huge problem then, right?

  2. orbsitron

    Don't forget iCloud. You cannot get rid of the "you're running out of space" messages even if you use iCloud _only_ to backup the OS/app list/messages (ie: things Apple doesn't let any 3rd party backup).

    iOS doesn't seem to have a smart overwrite mechanism to age out old backups so your free iCloud storage lasts much longer than it could. If it does, it's not described anywhere in the UI, yet the prominent popups that you're running out of space are very much there, and interruptive, all of the time.

    I use OneDrive to backup my documents, photos and videos and I use Spotify for my music, so I have very little that needs iOS backup. If used WhatsApp more extensively than iMessage, I would need even less, yet iCloud was the first thing to start bombarding me with ads.

  3. Cdorf

    Its like Siri is saying "a little bit of sign in here, a touch of ads over here, a couple dollars a month over there you won't notice...." during setup

  4. chaad_losan

    Nailed it. Apple is selling you something at every turn. They shove down their own services down your throat. To the detriment to any and all competitors.

  5. James Hancock

    Doing exactly this right now for the debacle that is .NET Core 3.1:

    1. .NET Core 3.1 was released within a week of .NET Core 2.2 being end of lifed despite Scott Hanselman telling us that this wouldn't happen and we'd have plenty of time to switch.
    2. Azure Functions wasn't ready until February 7th 2020, 2 MONTHS after they EOLed .NET Core 2.2 and 6 MONTHS after .NET Core 3.0 was released.
    3. oData still isn't ready!
    4. The Json Serializer which you're being forced to adopt because most 3rd parties support Newtonsoft.Json for 2.x and the built in serializer for 3.x thus you must switch despite the claims otherwise, isn't ready. It doesn't handle dates, has no default options settings, doesn't handle cyclical references at all, can't handle Javascript generated JSON that often has integers as strings, etc. etc.
    5. EF Core 3.1 breaks your working code in .NET 2.x. And it does so only discoverable at runtime. Thus the only way to actually move to EF Core 3.1 is to test every single database query by hand. And no it isn't just badly written queries that fail, it's about 25% of properly written queries too.
    6. oData alphas that do support .NET Core 3.x fully actually case EF Core to break on queries that worked in .NET Core 2.x too, so you can't expose $filter, $select, $orderby to your customers using your API because if you do, stuff breaks and didn't in the past.
    7. Because of the changes to queries in EF Core 3.1, dumbing down what it will actually work with, rewritting the queries to actually work generates 20% more traffic over the wire, adds 14% to both SQL Server memory usage and .NET Web Api usage and sends about 30% more on average down to clients than it did under .NET Core 2.2
    8. We're still not done, and because of the slipshod release schedule come hell or high water, our production code is being exposed to security risks under .NET Core 2.2 that isn't supported any longer.

    Yet they're still bragging about how wonderful .NET Core 3.1 is while making developers their unpaid interns fixing bugs instead of Microsoft doing the right thing. At the same time that .NET Core 3.1 was released Angular (Google makes virtually 0 money from Angular, whereas Microsoft makes piles of money given that .NET is directly linked to Azure) released version 9 which is a complete rewrite of the rendering engine and could have broken anything is as simple as ng update --all and volia, your project is updated from version 6 or later, automatically. Where it can't be updated, they make clear notations for you and tell you what decisions you need to make right there in your code for you. The result is that it just works. Whereas .NET Core 3.1 upgrade from .NET Core 2.2 has been a 200+ hour nightmare and counting.

    Microsoft could do the right thing and extend security patches for .NET Core 2.2 until .NET 5 is released which is when most of this stuff is going to be fixed, and take responsibility and commit to tools like ng update going forward. Instead they're doing their best to ignore all of the people complaining and even slamming their competitors for doing less bad things than they are.

    .NET is in a losing battle endlessly and Microsoft is doing a great job of alienating the few developers they have left and no one there seems to care. It's clear that Panos taking over Windows and devices is a last ditch effort before the CEO puts a silver stake in Windows and devices entirely and retreats from consumer and business consumer entirely. What they haven't figured out is that if they do that, Azure has no path to growth over AWS other than price, and .NET will go down with the Windows ship, which makes it even worse for Azure, especially if they keep treating their customers/developers like they are now. (This has NEVER happened in 20 years of using .NET until now.)

    • rokeykokey

      In reply to JohnGalt1717:

      Did you mean to comment upon this article? You appear to have some good points there, but I cannot, for the life of me, acquiesce what the context for such a comment was.

      Would you enlighten me thus regarding the aforementioned?

      • James Hancock

        In reply to rokeykokey:

        People calling out companies. Apple does ads and as shitty Q/A. Google makes you the product, Amazon doesn't understand security and spams the hell out of you, and Microsoft screws over its customers with arrogance.

  6. thechise

    I think when you get into this stuff, none of these companies are better or worse than the other. MS, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. None of them ever met a dollar they didn't like

  7. Daekar

    I almost never see ads in Windows 10. Maybe it's because I already sub to Office 365.

    Most software in Android is so riddled with ads that I won't use it. If you ask a reasonable price I will pay for your app, but I'm not dealing with any more ads. And I am sick to death of popups pushing me to pay money for YouTube.

    Apple pushes their stuff hard at every stage of the process, including making it a real pain to use any other cloud provider other than iCloud. Still, I haven't seen anything quite as aggressive as what is described above. That could be because I removed practically everything I could from my iPhone 8 including Apple Music. I have to say, I do appreciate how much Apple stuff you can remove from iOS, I'm glad they changed that.

    The Apple app store is TERRIBLE though. Truly. You have to know exactly what you're looking for and spell it exactly right, and even then what you're looking for is mostly likely not the top result. It's awful.

    • jamJAR

      In reply to Daekar:

      One place in Windows 10 where the ads are abundant and disturbingly full screen and in-your-face are the Microsoft games, Minesweeper and Solitare (and the rest). They were playable when Windows 10 was released, but I tried them recently and the ads have just distroyed the experience. Like h*** I'm paying for a monthly or yearly subscription to remove ads!

  8. innitrichie

    Apple is in the experiences business. Every detail about every pixel that goes inside one of Apple's apps is examined to excruciating detail. They will only show these guides if the actionable outcome enhances the overall experience for consumers.

  9. olditpro2000

    Ads are everywhere and feel completely inescapable now. It's like that scene from Idiocracy where the guy is watching TV and 75% of the screen is consumed by ads. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy for me a few years ago when Verizon turned on large banner ads inside the FiOS programming guide.

    There are ads for services in your mortgage statement, on your credit card bill, on TV, radio, mail, email, and even in your OSes. I think we have become so desensitized to the practice that we don't even notice half of them.

    Don't even get me started on robocalls - I can't even answer the phone anymore because 4 out of every 5 calls is junk.

  10. lvthunder

    I don't see these as ads. They are simply letting users know what can be done. How many features would go unused if they didn't make them known. Since people are too lazy to read an instruction manual this is how it has to be done.

  11. feek

    I’ve been saying this for a long time.

    I like every week I get a notification about Appletv, iCloud storage (it’s entirely used by iMessage), Apple Pay, arcade. It’s crazy, but I only see people complaining about MS advertising edge in windows.

    i had a notification badge on the settings app until i setup Apple Pay ffs.

    • Stooks

      In reply to feek:

      So I subscribe to AppleTV (got a free year with my new iPhone).

      I barely use any of my free 5gig of iCloud storage and I get NO ADS for icloud storage. If it was close to full or full I would suspect to get a warning....which is not an Ad per say.

      I use Apple Pay almost every day...never seen thing about the Apple card unless I actually go into the wallet app, which for me is only when I add a new card, which is hardly ever. Once they are added I use them and never see an ad.

      Arcade.....never seen anything about it. Then again I have no games on my iPhone or iPad.

      I do own Office 365 Home, so six users and I use it all the time. But guess what I see ads for it in Windows 10....WTF???

  12. skolvikings

    I'm sorry but now that I'm on my computer and can see the "example" screenshots, this is such a stupid complaint. You mean to tell me that if I launch the App Store, and click the button on the bottom called "Arcade" but am not already a subscriber, it will tell me how I can sign up? Oh my goodness, the horrors!!!! Or if I launch the Apple Music app, there's a full screen feature advertising a new feature of the program to inform me. Not an ad to buy Apple Music, just letting me know that, as a subscriber, they now have real-time lyrics. Pull out the pitchforks!!!

    What a load of crap.

    Yes, there are instances where they advertise stuff. I opened the Wallet app and sure enough, there's an advertisement for the Apple credit card. I clicked the X to close it and force closed Wallet and relaunched and the ad didn't come back. Okay, so there are some cases. I bet if you didn't already subscribe to Apple Music, but launched the Apple Music app, it might offer you ways to subscribe to that too.

    C'mon people. There's about 40% truth to this (being generous) and it's not exclusive to Apple. I can't even watch a video in YouTube without being asked to sign up for YouTube Premium or YouTube TV... and there's no way to close and have it remember, it'll show you again tomorrow, trust me. Also, I used to pay for Hulu with Live TV and had to watch commercials. The audacity!!!

    We can certainly argue where the line in the sand should be, but I would argue it's a good thing that Apple promotes their products and services to their customers. I mean, seriously, if you launch Apple Music but you're not a subscriber, WTF do you want to have happen?

  13. proftheory

    I don't see any ads.

    I don't use the store, or Office 365 (LibreOffice), and I have a local account.

    Windows 8.0 was someone trying to replicate "a cult of Jobs" by not caring about what users want and only interested in what they thought we should want.

  14. Todd Northrop

    Paul, per your last sentence, congratulations on finally calling Apple out on something.

  15. RobertJasiek

    The ad place annoying me the most has not been mentioned yet: by default, Apple's (i)Books app opens with an ad page instead of the page showing the user's own files.

    That the AppStore opens with an ad page is just a discouragement to use the AppStore at all. Apple hurts itself. Needless to say, the ads contribute to discourage buying another iOS device.

  16. pbeiler1

    Interesting. I saw ads using Safari, on my iPhone and thought they came from the site I was on. (Thurrott, Mary Jo Foley, and Petri). I switched to Edge and the ads were not there.

  17. diamond575

    I have been railing against the News+ advertising since the service started. Apple shamelessly sprinkles News+ articles throughout the News app so that I frequently accidentally hit their paywall, which is very annoying.

  18. olditpro2000

    Apparently Microsoft is joining the push notification advertisement gang now. I just saw a Microsoft Word notification suggesting a download of the new Office iOS app.

  19. sharpsone

    Why are people still using this product? The entire ad industry needs a deep and wide swath of regulatory requirements to protect consumers from abuse... We should own our data and all receive a piece of profit from it. That's a good way to boost the economy and level the playing field. 20th century law doesn't protect us in a technologically advanced 21st century full of data whores.

  20. codymesh

    watch as users make excuses for Apple as if it isn't them who's normalizing this for the industry to begin with. Astonishing lack of self-awareness, defending a trillion dollar company

  21. brduffy

    Amen brother

  22. Aaron44126

    Eh, I use an iPhone, consider myself a power user, and I do not have a problem with the amount of ads shown. I will admit that I pay for Apple Music so I wouldn't see an ad for that, but if I didn't pay for Apple Music then I don't think that I would have any reason to open the Apple Music app to see the ad. (I would just use the Spotify, or Amazon Music, or whatever other service app instead.) Same goes for Apple TV and Apple News apps... The ads are contained in the app and I see no reason to ever open these.

    I can see the Apple Card nag being annoying, but really, how often are you adding credit or debit cards to the wallet?

    The store has (paid) promoted apps in search results and I do find that a bit annoying when I have to scroll down a bit to get to the app that I really want. But I see the same thing on Amazon, or Google, or Twitter, so I can't really fault Apple too much there.

    • rsfarris

      In reply to Aaron44126: Same. At least it’s for their own stuff. That makes sense to me from a business perspective. Google stalks me and shoves things I like in my face like a crack dealer. Apple is just like, “we have this other stuff too, mate. If you wanna give it a look.” Microsoft’s ads never bothered me either because I never really see any. Not sure if that’s because of a particular OS version of 10 or what.

    • Shamir Dasgupta

      In reply to Aaron44126:

      Also, Apple isn't selling your data to questionable third parties (or any third party). Something cannot be said for Microsoft, Google, or Facebook etc.

    • bigfire

      In reply to Aaron44126:

      It's good that you're not bothered by it, but I am. The worst is the indicator in settings that nags me to buy iCloud to back up my iPad. The same indicator is used to update the OS, so I feel compelled to check it from time to time, only to find it's worthless to me.

      The fact that you can ignore ads doesn't meant they're not irritating, and that they don't play by the same rules as they offer other store providers, and that they create a worse experience on a platform you paid a lot of money for. Whereas Amazon, Google, and Twitter are free, which makes for a different set of expectations.

      • rsfarris

        In reply to bigfire:

        But it's still their own stuff. It's like complaining that the PS4 tries to sell you Playstation TV, Playstation Now, and Playstation Plus, and the Xbox One tries to sell you Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass. No one complains about those though, but they're just as much present as Apple's stuff. I'm not saying any of that can't be irritating, because it is, especially when I still get ads from Microsoft for Game Pass which I already have, for example. But I am saying even paid products sell you ads for their other products. I'm happier with it simply because it doesn't stalk me to do it, and it makes sense to advertise your other products within your other products. It's the same thing as going to a Microsoft and Apple store and seeing window advertisements for Microsoft and Apple products. We don't complain about it there, so I don't get why we complain about it on devices that are, frankly, also designed to facilitate capitalism and purchasing more products.

        And yes, to others, I get the "if it's free, you're the product" thing. That's why I abstain from Google and the like as much as possible, which is unfortunately not as much as possible enough.

  23. RonV42

    Wow this is just abuse from Apple, Even Android doesn't stoop to these aggressive measures for Google services.

  24. PeterC

    The clever part is they make the ads look as good as possible, as close to iOS look and feel as possible so they don’t stand out....

  25. PanamaVet

    When I went in for my annual hearing exam yesterday I was told that IOS updates had caused serious problems with hearing aid connectivity. I control my hearing aids and customize them with my iPhone 8. I have been experiencing connectivity failures. He reset them and it seemed to help but today it is taking repeated efforts by the IOS app to connect and synchronize with both hearing aids.

  26. bnyklue

    I don't like Apple doing this, but it isn't anywhere near as bad as what Microsoft has done to Windows. For one thing, these ads are for Apple services that people actually use and want. They're also only in certain apps designed for those services. The in your face Windows ads are for Edge and terrible Store apps like Candy Crush.

    • ronh

      In reply to bnyklue:

      Just delete candy crush.

    • falonyn

      In reply to bnyklue:

      You have a point that Windows serves up bloatware and ads for stupid games right in the OS, but once you delete them, or shut them off, they are mostly gone. I saw the ad for Edge, but I turned off 'suggested apps' in the start menu for my own computers and haven't seen it.

      With these Apple ones, you can't get right of them. I think that is the hard thing for some to digest. And Apple was one of those places many thought they would be free from this... but they aren't.

      I think most people didn't totally notice it until it was pointed out though. I know I blow past most ads. The youtube premium one I notice because it interrupts me, but that is the only time I really notice them.

    • skborders

      In reply to bnyklue:

      NO, iOS is much worse than Windows. Then there are the clickbait ads they give you in the apps where they show a game that looks fun but the real game is nothing like what the add shows. Add to that, the bugs which make it even worse. I really hate iOS 13. Oh how I long for the Simplicity that was Windows Phone.

  27. Chris_Kez

    The App Store search algorithm is terrible, and I would prefer Apple didn't offer paid search placement, but that seems common across app stores and the web. As for News, TV, Music and Arcade, you can completely avoid those ads by using better alternatives from other developers. iOS has a massive catalog of high-quality apps to meet all of your content consumption needs. Some are free; some are a flat fee; some offer ongoing service commitments. Isn't it common for services companies to advertise their paid options within their app? Does Spotify not try to incent free users to upgrade to a paid tier? How about YouTube? The reality is that Apple is relying more and more on services as we reach maximum smartphone penetration and the upgrade cycle lengthens to 3 years.

    • runthere

      True, both Spotify and Youtube are asking for the premium upgrade option. However the missing part is both of those are pure service models. For Apple, I already paid roughly $1000 for the device. Now I'm being hounded to buy more services, storage for back ups, music, TV, etc. 
      Generally in the app model you pay to remove the ads. In this model, I paid the premium and I still get ads.
      I don't disagree that the cycle to upgrade devices is longer and something has to fill that gap however if I am going to be served up ads then the device itself shouldn't cost as much. I didn't get the option (like on a Kindle) to pay less while ads from the parent company pop up on the homescreen.
      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      • Chris_Kez

        In reply to runthere:

        Fair points; upvote! ??

        While I’m here I’ll add that I find the iCloud storage tiers. As with device storage they provide options that seem to purposefully elude the sweet spot. Why is there no 500GB option or a 1TB option?

      • lvthunder

        In reply to runthere:

        Are you really being hounded? Sounds like hyperbole to me.

          • joeaxberg

            In reply to Skolvikings:

            I kind of agree. When they start using words like "insideous" I tune out. Like the evil iOS empire is out to get us.

            Until I read this article I never thought twice about the ads or that Apple is heavily marketing its own services. They're just ads...whatevs.

            As for the "why do I have to watch ads when I paid big $$$ for this device argument"

            Is that not exactly what happens when you buy a TV or a radio? My car cost me big bucks and when I turn on a local radio station I have to listen to ads. Many times its ads for the exact same car I own and dealer I bought it from.

            • Paul Thurrott

              Insidious is a great word to describe what Apple is doing here. Maybe open your mind a bit since this behavior is terrible. Is that word better?
  28. ndelena

    I have a problem when ads assert themselves outside of their expected forum, e.g. if I am getting push notification with ads, rather than being sold either within the app or within an app store (which is a marketplace, after all). Right now my top offender is my Samsung phone which repeatedly pushes notifications letting me know the Galaxy S20 preorder is going on. I don't consider myself an apologist for any platform and I'm one of those weirdos with multiple devices - iPhone 11 Pro Max, Galaxy Fold, Dell Latitude 5500, Surface Studio, 16" MacBook Pro. Bona fides aside, the Apple ads don't bother me because they're topical and in the specific app or service you are opening and using. If Apple started pushing ads for the Apple Card in Notifications, that would be another story.