iOS Push Traffic: Are Push Ads Coming to iPhones?

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iphone with web push notificaiton

When we added push traffic to our ad format offerings, it quickly became many advertisers go to format due to the great conversion rates and returns. Soon clients were asking us about iOS push traffic. They could see we didn’t have them in our inventory but wanted to know if they were coming. Well, the short version is Apple hasn’t introduced iOS web push notifications yet and there are both some encouraging and discouraging signs as to whether they will ever come. 

What Is Push Traffic?

Push traffic is internet users that come from ads delivered via push notifications. Push notifications are those little, clickable boxes and messages that appear on your mobile or desktop device that tell you information. These notifications range from SMS messages from relatives to reminders to log back into that game you just can’t stop playing.

There’s a difference, however, between the type of notifications I mentioned and the so-called web push. The former are delivered by apps installed on users’ devices, while web push is delivered from websites. As web push traffic requires recipients to opt-in and appear in the context of other updates and messages, they have high click-through and conversion rates. Unlike pop and other forms of traffic which tend to operate on the CPM cost model, push operates on the CPC (Cost per click) model. 

Learn more about push traffic.

The Current State of iOS Push Notifications and iOS Push Traffic

At the moment, apps installed on iOS can send push notifications to users’ devices. That’s why the Uber app can let you know that your ride has just turned up. However, the official Apple developer guidelines state that apps can’t monetize app push notifications. While some developers may occasionally break these guidelines, there is no way to provide a reliable flow of push notification traffic from apps on iOS.

Instagram push notification overwhelm gif

Although Android devices and various desktop operating systems (including Apple’s macOS) have support for web push notifications, browsers on iOS currently do not. This is the type of push notification that we (and other advertising networks) turn into push ads and so no traffic source is currently able to offer iOS push notification ads. 

With all that said, there is some encouraging (and discouraging) evidence that push notifications may be on their way to iOS devices. Let’s start with the good news. 

The Evidence That iOS Push Traffic Is Coming

Apple is clearly not completely against push notifications including web-based push notifications. Safari on the Mac has these notifications as do all other browsers on macOS. If Apple was completely against the idea of web notifications, they’d all be blocked. 

Although Apple has very strict guidelines regarding what push notifications are acceptable, there are groups who frequently break these rules and even Apple has been seen to break its own rules on advertising.

There is also clearly a demand for web push notifications as they are a feature that developers have been requesting on Apple’s forums and complaining about their absence on developer forums. There have even been some developments in iOS which show progress towards supporting web push notification ads. 

While Safari on iOS is far more limited than its bigger brother in macOS, Apple has recently added support for some of the required underlying technologies. Most notably, Apple added support for service worker in IOS 11.3 which is a core requirement for web push. 

In addition, at this year’s World Wide Developer Conference, where Apple shows off what software they will be releasing this year, Apple announced iPadOS. While there have been iPad only features for a while, there are more significant features coming this year and it is a positive statement about the future of the iPad and by extension iOS.

The most interesting new feature for the future or web push notifications on iOS is the “desktop-class browsing” experience. Although this doesn’t include web push notification support yet, there are some significant changes at play and point to Apple opening up the iOS version of Safari for a more desktop-like experience. 

So to sum that all up, Apple has slowly been opening up its standards with both notifications and developing mobile browsing on iOS. All things which are needed for push traffic on iOS. 

an young excited girl

The Evidence Against iOS Push Traffic

Even with all these encouraging signs, it’s too early to crack out the champaign. There are some discouraging signs against web push notifications ever coming to iOS. 

Apple has always been a more controlling computing company. This can be a benefit or disadvantage depending on your perspective and opinion. Regardless, it is unlikely to change anytime and web-based push notifications is an example of an area where Apple would have less control. 

Admittedly, Apple allows web notifications on macOS and so they can be completely against the technology. When we compare iOS and macOS, however, we can see that iOS has always been more controlled by Apple. In addition, Apple has also started seeking more control over macOS as seen with the addition of Startup Security Utility which can limit Applications to only those found on the Mac App Store. 

Even the encouraging additions in iOS 13—notably, the more advanced Safari browser on iPadOS—can be seen as a sign against a future of Web push notifications on iOS. After all, web push notifications aren’t one of the new features coming with this big release and even if it were to come later, these features are so far only for the iPad and not the iPhone. 

That’s not to say that web push notifications won’t be added to a later version of iOS—even to an update of iOS 13. But it does suggest that web push notifications aren’t seen as a “desktop-class” feature by Apple and that may mean it is a lower priority.  

The final point to consider is that Apple has since the introduction of the App store, consistently and heavily promoted native apps over web apps. Native apps already have notification support in iOS so adding web push notifications may encourage web apps over native apps and is an additional method to do what is already possible. 

When you consider all this together, it might make web push notifications and ads a lower priority or something they actively want to avoid introducing. 

gif of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park saying "Well, there it is."

Why It Matters if iOS Push Traffic Comes

Although desktop and Android push traffic is huge—Zeropark has 2,598,807,568 monthly clicks available—it’s not the whole picture. According to Apple, there are 1.4 billion active iOS devices (in comparison with over 2 billion active Android devices). Adding that number of devices to the traffic pool would be huge. Just imagine doubling your profits.

It’s also worth considering that iOS device users tend to comprise users from higher tier GEOs and higher income levels. Of course, there are plenty of Android users with those same characteristics (so I’m not speaking badly of Android users). However, adding more of this traffic and with the option to target based on device type would add a great simple optimization option.   

What You Can Do to Help Get Push Ads on iOS 

Although Apple is famous for following its own direction and path rather than copying others or even listening to feedback from its customers, Apple does listen to feedback sometimes. In fact, there are a couple of systems to give feedback to Apple. 

The first is the official developer system called “Feedback Assistant”. This is the official feedback system for disclosing software bugs. However, during the beta programs of the next versions of the operating systems, Apple collects a lot more general feedback on features. It’s the perfect time to request support for web push notifications in the desktop-class safari. 

If you’re not a developer (or a developer account for that matter) you can also provide feedback on Apple’s beta software via the public beta program.  

The final option is Apple’s general feedback system. Here anyone can send a suggestion related to a specific Apple product—software or hardware. Although there is an option to give feedback on the desktop version of Safari, there is no option to give feedback on the mobile version of Safari. So I suggest you choose the iPhone or iPad as your method to give feedback.

The final method is to start discussions in relevant online communities such as Reddit and stack exchange. While this is not an official channel, it can be more effective than sending direct feedback. No company likes negative press and if enough people complain, it can lead to change.  

While sending feedback via any of these methods is no guarantee of persuading Apple, it’s better than just waiting around, hoping that something will happen.  

You Can Still Run Push Ad Campaigns

Although you can’t buy push traffic from iOS devices, you can run push ad campaigns on different traffic sources. If you really want to target iOS devices you’ll have to look at other traffic source options like pop or domain redirects. Of course, if Push traffic does come to iOS, you can bet Zeropark will add support as soon as possible.   

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