After Apple began running new advertisements in the App Store on Tuesday, some developers checked their product pages to find banner ads for adult video chat apps, video poker apps and gambling apps of all varieties.
The fact that some of these advertisements appear on apps for children and apps for addiction recovery adds insult to injury. I asked a few independent developers to get their reaction to the news — and they were not happy.
Update (October 27): Apple has revised the types of ads that may appear, but the new ad placements remain.
In a statement, spokesperson Trevor Kincaid says that “ads related to gambling and a few other categories” will be paused. There is no word yet as to whether this is a temporary or permanent change. The new ad placement is still in effect with other ads in its place.
Developers react to new App Store ads
“I don’t like if my products are being associated with gambling,” he told Cult of Mac. “I feel like Apple should be better and know better than this.”
“It’s demotivating that my top chart app is offset by random ads preventing downloads,” Lipnik said. “If a competitor is above me, they’ll probably win the download, regardless if it’s better.”
Other developers expressed their opinions to me privately but declined to be named or have their comments published anonymously.
Apple’s slow march toward running ads in the App Store
In 2015, Apple executives first floated the idea of running ads in the App Store, according to evidence released to the public during the Apple v. Epic trial.
“The ability to pay for promotion would be awesome,” said David Neumann, a long-time Apple veteran, in an email conversation with Eric Friedman, head of Apple’s fraud engineering algorithms and risk unit.
“The devs would love it,” Friedman replied.
Apple rolled out paid advertising inside search results the following year.
Early last year, the Financial Times reported on Cupertino’s plans to add another slot for advertising: on the app’s product page itself. While Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed disdain for Google and Facebook’s advertising businesses, his company’s actions show that he morally opposes data tracking in particular, but evidently has no problems with advertising in his products.
This became a harsh reality for developers Tuesday. Open the App Store, tap on the first app you see and scroll down. The top “recommended” app highlighted in blue is a paid advertisement.
What else could Apple do?
If Cook’s goal is simply to increase App Store revenue, developers were quick to point out these new ads aren’t the only solution. Lipnik thinks Apple could give developers more options for monetizing their apps.
Currently, the App Store only gives developers two ways to charge users. The first is to charge up-front, but this option is unpopular because users can’t try before they buy. Developers only get paid once for the lifetime of the app.
A more popular model is to give away the app for free with in-app purchases and subscriptions to unlock features. However, developers must hack together a solution, locking features behind a paywall with their own code.
Ethan said enhancing the App Store with “upfront subscriptions, free trials” and other modern payment structures “can help a lot at giving developers more control on monetization.”
That, in turn, could increase revenue for everyone — Apple included.
In short: Do developers actually ‘love it’?
When I sent the aforementioned quote from Eric Friedman — “The devs would love it” — Lipnik replied, “I don’t think any meaningful promotion would be in reach of indie devs.”
Others declined to make public or anonymous comments, alluding to potential repercussions. But I can tell you, I didn’t get any that said “yes.”