Apple loves talking about how much it supports the open web, vis-à-vis the buzzy but murkily qualified shorthand of HTML5.
The big new user feature in Safari 5 is “Safari Reader”. It’s kind of like Instapaper, the brilliant iPhone/iPad app, which serves as a sort of time-shifting adblocker for web content, stripping out the cruft – especially ads – and leaving a clean, book-like river of text.
Safari Reader pulls all of the text and images out of articles too, even multi-page pieces, and presents them in a single, supremely readable view without “annoying ads and other visual distractions,” as Apple underlines. The major difference between Instapaper and Safari is that Instapaper was created as a way to read articles later on an iPhone offline, in an elegant way. Safari Reader springs to life on top of a web page inside Safari. By ripping, reformatting and re-presenting web pages and articles within Safari, Apple isn’t just making web reading more pleasant; it’s expressing a contempt for the web by sanitising it. Not unlike the App Store, in some ways.
It’s extremely used-focused and that will surely be the defence played by Safari users. (And it’s a good one! Who likes ads?) What’s galling though, is that Reader was shown on the very day that Apple officially launched its own ad platform for iPhone and iPad apps.
Jim Lynch presents a fairly apocalyptic view of Safari Reader. Paraphrased, Lynch says Safari 5 is the first browser with a built-in ad blocker. It kills pageviews by reducing multipage articles to a single page and strips publishers of control over how their content is displayed. (Update: Ars’ great piece on this same topic says that the scripting does call the ads for the time being, it just doesn’t display them.) It’ll spread to other browsers, as marquee features tend to do, and publishers will be screwed as they lose pageviews and ad dollars. (I don’t think it will be quite this bad, maybe because I want it as a feature for Safari on the iPad, where it would prove more useful.)
Yet Apple sells iAds. While publishers can’t control what their content looks like on the web with Safari Reader, they can create content apps, as Wired and PopSci have done. And hey, they can have fancy ads, too – if they use Apple’s iAds program. iAds can’t be blocked. They can be deeply interactive. They can collect data other ad services – at least the other biggies – cannot collect.
It’s weird to see Steve Jobs tout iAds so prominently, revelling in how engaging they are. I mean, people don’t want to interact with any ads, no matter how slick, right? Well, advertisers think they will. A source in the industry says while there’s always been interest in the iPhone as an advertising platform, iAds is the first way to do premium ads – engagement-based advertising – and there’s legitimate excitement to make the kind of ads like the Toy Story one Apple’s been showing off, because suddenly they can “drop an experience” inside of apps. It’s why advertisers have already spent $US60 million on iAds. Advertisers love that sort of shit, because interactivity momentarily occludes the ultimate facileness of their same old messaging.
That – and because Apple promised them a spot in the keynote. It’s not a coincidence that Apple and Nissan, whose Leaf electric car Jobs showcased excessively while talking about iAds, have the same ad agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day.
It’s a clever pivot: Introducing an ad blocker for the web just before it launches an ad platform that’ll be the superior way to to deliver advertising to a captive audience on devices that by definition block the other most prevalent form of interactive advertising on the web (Flash). And more than a little awkward, from a publisher’s perspective, given how much Apple says it loves them and wants to help them: Even though a publisher’s best interest is to have its content available on the most universal platform possible, the only path to salvation Apple actually offers runs through the App Store. The web won’t save them, goes the pitch, because web ads are awful – they might even use Flash! – and everyone just blocks or ignores them anyway.
But iAds? Innovative, compelling, interactive and – on a platform which disallows browser plug-ins like Instapaper – completely unignorable.