Most assumed Apple would play by the rules.

Why wouldn’t it?

After all, Apple is one of the self-appointed stewards of the Internet, alongside other tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and yes, its archrival Google. Together, they control content. They dictate user experience. They fuel innovation. And they reap the rewards – in the form of billions of annual dollars.

As stewards, Apple and its fellow giants have steered the Internet to become the proverbial engine of the 21st century – an engine that runs almost entirely on ads.

In the words of Wired’s Julia Greenberg, “ads pay the bills.” They finance the publisher economy, allowing Internet content to remain largely free and accessible to the public. In return, web users have to deal with ads, however begrudgingly.

And then a few weeks ago the news broke – albeit quietly. Obscured beneath pages of documentation, Apple revealed that it would soon support ad blocking for the iPhone’s mobile browser Safari.

The advertising industry is understandably concerned.

The Internet runs on ads, and Apple – in a move with all the pomp and circumstance of a Monday morning memo – threatened to dismantle the machine.

Apple’s Unique Position

Apple is in a unique position to do so. While it may play a major part in running the Internet, Apple doesn’t really profit from ads directly.

Rather, Apple has built its empire on the backs of its hardware.

And in order to make that hardware – like the iPhone – more accessible and appealing to the masses, it makes sense to block ads that many people find annoying.

As others have noted, by coming out in support of ad blocking, Apple elevates its own public perception while hamstringing its ad-dependent archrival Google.

But there’s also another motive to consider…

The Rise of the App

The Internet races towards a mobile-first future. You’ve seen the numbers. Consumers are on mobile. Ad spend is shifting towards mobile. Entire companies are claiming to now be mobile-first.

And on mobile, Apple has an ecosystem where it exercises absolute power – precisely because it created the ecosystem.


By blocking ads on mobile web, Apple drives traffic towards its iOS-sanctioned apps, encouraging publisher content to follow suit. So while web-dependent publishers and their desktop-first ad tech partners may suffer, mobile-first companies can thrive.

As it turns out, Apple may not be so much as dismantling the Internet as it is re-configuring it.

If You’re Not Mobile-First, You’re Last

In short, Apple is attempting – intentionally or not – to configure the Internet to be app-first, therefore making it mobile-first.

It’s a move with an interesting set of implications.

More than ever, mobile-first companies are in a better position to succeed. With the threat of mobile web ad blocking going mainstream, mobile web inventory on iOS will likely decrease. In return, the value of in-app inventory will only increase.

Publishers like Facebook, which have created app-ecosystems of its own, shouldn’t worry about Apple’s ad blocking initiative, as Alex Kantrowitz of BuzzFeed recently suggested. Advertisers will start pushing more of their dollars towards in-app advertising, if they haven’t already.

And those ad tech solutions who grew up mobile-first, can actually look upon Apple’s ad blocking push as a sign of good things to come.

Specifically, tech designed for advertising in-app doesn’t rely on cookies (like desktop-first companies) to track and optimize the effectiveness of mobile campaigns.

So while the mainstreaming of web ad blocking might spell doom for those unequipped for mobile’s advent, in-app advertising will flourish.

Apple ad blocking doesn’t threaten to dismantle the Internet. It simply urges the Internet to move forward.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Mobile Majority Blog and has been republished with permission.