In a change to its developer terms this week, Apple clarified its position on third-party advertising: It's OK for apps to collect user data for advertising, but only if an "independent" provider serves those ads and counts mobile advertising as its primary business.
The terms state: "An advertising service provider owned by or affiliated with a developer or distributor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems or development environments other than Apple would not qualify as independent." Well, it sounds like that rules out Google, with its Android operating system and search as its primary moneymaker.
At least that's how AdMob founder Omar Hamoui is taking it. "Apple proposed new developer terms on Monday that, if enforced as written, would prohibit app developers from using AdMob and Google's advertising solutions on the iPhone," Mr. Hamoui wrote in a blog post.
Without inventory from Apple devices, AdMob could stand to lose a significant chunk of revenue. About 30% of ad requests on the mobile network in April came from iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads, and the vast majority came from apps rather than the mobile web.
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"We'll be speaking to Apple to express our concerns about the impact of these terms," Mr. Hamoui wrote.
That also means "independent" mobile ad networks such as JumpTap, Greystripe and Millennial Media can draw a sigh of relief. (Greystripe Director of Marketing Dane Holewinski was quick to submit comment in support of the new terms.)
For now, market share will be a big decider for the significance of these terms. Right now, Research in Motion's Blackberry is the leader in the U.S. smartphone market, followed by Android, which blew past Apple's 21% in first quarter, according to NPD Group.
Though, with a substantial chunk of the smartphone market and now with its popular iPad, Apple's terms could deter buyers from independent ad networks, or vice versa. Industry insiders say Millennial Media is looking for a buyer and sensitivity to Apple inventory would make mobile operating systems, carriers or handset manufacturers off limits.
The change Monday comes as a surprise, as CEO Steve Jobs only last week said Apple is not interested in banning mobile ad competition on its devices, at the eighth annual D: All Things Digital conference. Mr. Jobs made the comment after a change in terms in April that restricted data tracking, something integral to mobile advertising. Those terms have since been modified, and the "independent" clause added. Apple did not respond to requests for comment.