Many people may be surprised to hear that while Tim Cook has often taken thinly-veiled shots at the targeted ad-supported business model of some rivals, Apple does itself sell targeted ads.
Although there is a bit more nuance to that, it can look like a contradiction, or even a bit of hypocrisy, from the outside. As emails highlighted during the current Apple vs. Epic legal battle shows, Apple employees also grappled with whether or not Apple should offer ads in the App Store — and whether this opposed Apple’s messaging.
In one email, Eric Friedman, head of Apple’s Fraud Engineering Algorithms and Risk unit, wrote that:
“The devs would love it. The problem is that Tim is telling the world that we make great products without monetizing users. Ads would be weirdly at odds with that. I do think that search and explore are much better discovery tools. Also popularity alone is a stupid ranking function for the App Store. It’s fine for music (though fuse is about to unleash a torrent of fakery there, too).
But in the App Store I don’t only want to know what is popular. I want apps that are high quality, well looked after by engaged developers, and retained (because useful) by other users. Being popular within a category is a nice to have and should mostly correlate with the other values I described.”
Friedman was responding to an email from David Neumann, a 15-year Apple veteran. Neumann wrote that:
“Yes, the ability to pay for promotion would be awesome. We’ve floated it several times as the way to end chart gaming: if people are willing to pay ‘marketing companies’ (bot nets) to gain position, why don’t we just let them pay us to gain position?
No one is willing to take that on, however. I suppose it would get pretty cheesy, but at least it would be transparently cheesy.”
These emails were exchanged in early 2015, the year before Apple ultimately introduced its App Store Search Ads. The company is now looking to ramp up its investment in digital ads, possibly to establish itself as a player in a space that’s dominated by Google and Facebook.