iOS ad spend drops as AppTrackingTransparency takes off

The news: Ad spending on iOS devices is noticeably declining as more users install iOS 14.5 and above, which features Apple’s anti-tracking AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework. The framework allows users to decide whether to give a certain app permission to track them across other apps and websites.

Deeper into the numbers:

  • At the 2021 peak of ad spend on iOS, during the week of February 2 to 7, marketer budgets were split relatively evenly between operating systems: 43.84% went to iOS app install campaigns, and 56.16% went to Android, according to mobile analytics firm Singular. (However, Singular notes that spending may have been artificially high as advertisers scrambled before ATT went into effect.)
  • By the week of June 14 to 20, Apple’s share dropped to just 29.71% while Android claimed 70.29% of budgets.
  • And it’s not just Apple’s share that’s declining—total spend on iOS has fallen. iOS spending for the week of June 14 was just 59.8% of that of the week of February 2.

How we got here:

  • iOS 14.5 rolled out in April 2021, but adoption has been slow because Apple didn’t begin pushing users to upgrade until iOS 14.6 was released in late May.
  • As of last week, iOS 14.5+ adoption could be as high as 70%, per more recent estimates by mobile attribution firm Branch cited by Digiday. According to AppsFlyer, global adoption of iOS 14.5+ was only 16% by the week of May 25, but it rose to 45% by the week of June 7.
  • And so far, more than three-quarters of those who have installed iOS 14.5 or above have chosen not to share their data. The ATT opt-in rate was 23.64% last week, according to Singular—higher than the industry’s original expectations of between 2% and 20%, but still far lower than marketers are used to.

What’s next: We’re beginning to see the fallout of Apple’s privacy changes, but it remains to be seen whether this shift in ad spend will be permanent.

  • On one hand, marketers may return to Apple if its alternatives to the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) prove useful. “App developers might spend more on iOS ads if they become convinced they can still drive results without one-to-one targeting or reporting on most users,” said Nicole Perrin, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence.
  • Apple has recently been pushing marketers to use its privacy-friendly framework, SKAdNetwork—but the feature has been limited in the past, and marketers didn’t have a lot of incentive to use it while the IDFA was still around. The company recently improved SKAdNetwork’s data-sharing capabilities, but it'll be a while before marketers can test it out to see if it’s a viable alternative for measuring campaigns' success.
  • On the other hand, the shift to Android may stick as Google actively courts marketers with advertiser-friendly policies. For example, Google is making tracking opt-out rather than opt-in, and it recently began introducing ways to expand mobile app campaigns to desktops. And last week’s announcement that it’s delaying the deprecation of third-party cookies until 2023 has undoubtedly won the company points in marketers' eyes.