The ad-blocking reality app developers must face

It's a little awkward writing about the concept of ad-blocking technology when you work in a sector that is largely monetized through advertising, but here goes: 

The fact that ad-blocking apps rose to the top of the App Store charts shouldn't have surprised anyone, least of all app and mobile game developers. The change in Apple's stance towards this technology in iOS 9 opened the floodgates, and the ability for many iPhone customers to access it for the first time was bound to drive considerable interest and attention. Over the long haul, you probably won't see these apps dominate installs and usage. 

And yet...the app blocking surge speaks volumes about how iOS users everywhere feel about the user experience in many apps today. In other words, they are fed up by the distractions, the leaping past interstitials, the often-bungled attempts at delivering ads via algorithms and the relentless retargeting of ads across their smartphone, tablet and desktop. There was almost a sense of desperation in how quickly ad-blocking apps became a priority download. 

Of course, there are some developers who will possibly profit handsomely from this trend if they shift gears from creating mobile games and make their own ad-blocking apps. The sudden and abrupt demise of Peace, however, suggests that it may be less fulfilling than creating something that's entertaining and valuable. This was the explanation from Peace's Marco Arment:

"Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn't feel good, which I didn't anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: While they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don't deserve the hit. Peace required that all ads be treated the same -- all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren't black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn't serve our goals or beliefs well enough. If we're going to effect positive change overall, a more nuanced, complex approach is required than what I can bring in a simple iOS app."

That nuanced, complex approach is going to be a challenge for all developers, and not just because many consumers would probably happily live with an ad-free experience if they could. It's that, in many cases, I suspect monetization is still something many indie developers leave until after their app is launched. Despite all the advice to the contrary, the focus is usually on shipping something and trying to build a large audience. Leaving the business model as an afterthought probably makes a lot of in-app advertising the kind of low-hanging fruit that many are quick to grab. 

Now that ad-blocking is possible on iOS, developers should start to turn this process around and ask themselves some hard questions. Is some form of native ad a better fit? Can ads be introduced in a way that no one will want to bother blocking them? Do the same issues that drive users crazy about in-app ads apply to in-app purchases, and will someone one day figure out a way to block them too? However temporary the effect may be, the feedback consumers are offering through their support of ad-blocking demands a particularly thoughtful response. --Shane