Monday, February 17, 2020

The Paywalled Garden: iOS Is Adware

Steve Streza (tweet):

All that money comes from the wallets of 480 million subscribers, and their goal is to grow that number to 600 million this year. But to do that, Apple has resorted to insidious tactics to get those people: ads. Lots and lots of ads, on devices that you pay for. iOS 13 has an abundance of ads from Apple marketing Apple services, from the moment you set it up and all throughout the experience. These ads cannot be hidden through the iOS content blocker extension system. Some can be dismissed or hidden, but most cannot, and are purposefully designed into core apps like Music and the App Store. There’s a term to describe software that has lots of unremovable ads: adware, which what iOS has sadly become.

If you don’t subscribe to these services, you’ll be forced to look at these ads constantly, either in the apps you use or the push notifications they have turned on by default. The pervasiveness of ads in iOS is a topic largely unexplored, perhaps due to these services having a lot of adoption among the early adopter crowd that tends to discuss Apple and their design. This isn’t a value call on the services themselves, but a look at how aggressively Apple pushes you to pay for them, and how that growth-hack-style design comes at the expense of the user experience.

M.G. Siegler:

Wow, this is... aggressive. An almost full-screen self-ad on launch of the Apple Wallet app...

Oliver Haslam:

Emails, I don’t mind. It’s the location of the ad that’s the issue. The Wallet app is no place for an ad.

Marco Arment:

Neither is the Music app, but it’s often an Apple Music ad.

Same will happen to the TV app for TV+. They’ve already compromised Wallet (Card), App Store (Arcade), News (News+), and notifications.

The system UI doesn’t purely serve us anymore — it’s Apple’s upselling machine.

Daan Odinot:

Apple leveraging the shit out of the fact that they control the platform. They must know that they’re playing with fire here.

Marco Arment:

Are they? What can we really do about it?

Apple first let other apps turn our phones into marketing machines by non-enforcement of their rule against marketing/promotional push notifications.

Then they started routinely violating it themselves.

Actions speak: they don’t care.

Kyle Howells:

Apple’s services push is ruining the company.

Apple’s high quality and user focused design wasn’t inherently built into the company. It was a result of the companies incentives being to please their customers so they buy more hardware.

Once you switch to selling services the incentives switch too and so the quality disappears

This was completely predictable, and immensely disappointing.

Apple is destroying all the premium, high quality things we liked about them in pursuit of the myth of infinite growth modern companies have blinded themselves into believing in.

David Chartier:

Have we talked about how the TV app in tvOS 13 now just displays a bunch of ads for shows we haven’t heard of or don’t care about?

It used to display our most recently watched shows and films, making it super easy to get back to them.

This is an awful change.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Really though I’m pretty unhappy Apple’s TV+ service is going to debut in an app with mixed free/streaming and paid/rental movies, especially with Family Sharing where everything is linked to my credit card. I can’t stand that it mixes both kinds of content in recommendations

Josh Centers:

The Apple TV app on the Apple TV is currently the bane of my existence. In theory, it should be a tidy way to manage everything you watch, bringing together content from Apple, Disney+, HBO, Hulu, and other streaming services (but still not Netflix, for some reason), plus live news and even sports. It sort of does that, but over time, Apple has started using the app to push the company’s own paid content, especially its Apple TV+ service.

Michael Rockwell (tweet):

It’s becoming clear that Apple is more than happy promoting their services through apps like Apple TV. And because of this, I’ve slowly moved away from using Apple’s apps and services toward alternatives. =


Besides the blatant ads that we’re seeing more frequently in the UI, the issue that’s perhaps even more egregious is that entire app UIs are designed as ads.

They like to refer to it as “curation” but that’s really just another word for “advertisements”.

Dave (Reddit):

The reason this was controversial is that unlike the Up Next items, which were useful in showing you what’s on deck, the new full screen previews served no functional purpose and were essentially advertisements for content to watch. Firstly, this is a problem because it frequently suggests content you don’t even have access to without paying extra. But even more importantly, this speaks to a much bigger issue that has spread across the tech world — curation is destroying the user interface.

This may be the single biggest design problem in the tech world today.

I mean that sincerely. There is this ubiquitous tendency where “recommendation” has become another word for “advertisement”. Entire UIs are designed around how curators (both human and algorithmic) can suggest content for you.

Steve Streza:

The Apple News app is an obscene unending ad for News+ and it makes me want to yeet the app clean off every device it’s on.

Thom Holwerda:

The weird reality nobody wants to talk about: Apple, claiming not to be an ad company, puts tons of ads on its devices, while Google, definitely an ad company, puts effectively zero ads on Android.

Steve Streza:

More of the adware that permeates every corner of iOS. If you search for something in the Music app, it shows you an ad for Apple Music with no option to buy. Then if you go to the iTunes Store, it shows you... another ad for Apple Music.

Corbin Dunn:

Apple’s full size ad for News+ in the News “Mac” app. I don’t want to see any News+ stuff. How do I disable this?

Marco Arment:

After installing Catalina, EVERY app on my Mac had to re-ask for notification permission, even those I’d granted before.

Except fucking Apple News, which I never granted notification permission to, and enables itself for banners and sounds by default.

Zero respect for users.

Daniel J. Wilson:

Third-party apps have to be granted explicit permission to display notifications (even if they were already in use on your Mac), but Apple can display a marketing message for their browser when rival Chrome is launched for the first time on Catalina. Cool.

David Chapman:

iOS 13 has crippled the Health app and turned it into an ad platform.

Yes, I will probably buy a $3 app from the store in order to get the functionality back, so Apple will get $1 now. It will lose ~$100 in lifetime customer value by making me less likely to buy Apple products.

Ryan Jones:

Apple’s email receipts are killing me / customer support.

They don’t even have the app’s name, but an Apple Card ad made the cut! 🙄

Ben Szymanski:

I can’t believe that this is what the first party Mac software looks like now.

Ruffin Bailey:

I continually get bombarded now with what amount to advertisements asking for me to either buy more space now or, the other button says, “Not now”, implying, “Sure, I’ll do this later”. There is no, “I realize I’m out of space and I’ll handle it on my own danged time, thanks,” option. There was a time a week or two ago where, no lie, I was getting notifications about being out of space every 10-15 minutes on my iPhone.


That is, the only solution Apple provides for you when you’re out of iCloud space is for you to buy more iCloud space. That’s broken. That’s the wrong attitude. What is that space being used for? Are there smart ways to do these things another way?

The new push for services revenue feels totally off-brand for Apple. Or at least the old Apple. Maybe we’ve entered a new era for the company where growth-at-all-costs is the chief motivator for how they’re going to treat customers going forward.

John Gruber (tweet):

But I worry that with its services push, Apple is turning into an advertising company too. It’s just advertising its own services. In iOS 13 they put an ad for AppleCare at the very top of Settings. They use push notifications to ask you to sign up for Apple Pay and Apple Card, and subscribe to Apple Music, TV, and Arcade. The free tier of Apple News is now a non-stop barrage of ads for Apple News+ subscriptions. Are we at the “hellscape” stage with Apple? No, not even close. But it’s a slippery slope. What made Apple Apple is this mindset: “Ship great products and the profits will follow” — not “Ship products that will generate great profits”.

It is essential that product people remain in charge of these decisions at Apple, not services people.


Update (2020-02-18): Dave Wood:

This sort of thing has me recommending friends/family look at Windows instead of macOS. It hurts my soul, but if you’re going to be treated like an animal by the vendor, you may as well get the cheap hardware and save some $.

Ed Cormany:

this is…not even close to the accepted meaning of the word “adware”.

Nick Heer:

Streza calls iOS “adware”, which I think is hyperbolic. But there’s no denying that using Apple’s products is starting to feel like visiting a department store that’s more intent on pushing its credit card than selling you a pair of shoes.

For me, the result has been plainly obvious: I treat many of Apple’s first-party apps as mere containers for their subscription services.


Some of these things are utilities; music shouldn’t feel like a utility, but it does now.


I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for Apple to use its platform owner advantage to push its services, but I do think that, currently, it is making those products worse.

Tyler Hall:

I happily and enthusiastically paid for all that music. But now? Every time I see the $14.99 charge for our Apple Music family plan hit my checking account, I wince. I pay it begrudgingly because I feel like I have no other choice.

Let me be 100% crystal clear about this. The only reason I subscribe to Apple Music over Spotify or Tidal – or, hell, – Amazon Music or god-knows-what thing YouTube is currently offering, is because it’s the first-party, default service on macOS and iOS. The friction to use any other app that competes with a pre-installed, first party app on iOS (and increasingly macOS) is just too damn high.

Cameron Braun:

It’s been a slow, steady change, so I hadn’t really noticed it. But @SteveStreza is right here... @Apple is pushing its limits and it’s making the user experience worse...

Dare Obasanjo:

This is an amazing graphic from @SteveStreza that shows how iOS is now nagware constantly upselling you to services from an Apple credit card to music subscriptions. Apple does this while cracking down on Google’s ad business in the name of privacy.

We live in an interesting world where Apple has convinced the tech press that seeing targeted ads while using Google products is bad but seeing ads for Apple branded high interest credit cards in the native iOS wallet app is the moral high ground. 🤷🏾‍♂️

Ben Lovejoy (tweet):

Apple-focused writers don’t call Apple out, he suggests, because we mostly subscribe to Apple services so don’t see the promos. I’m not sure that’s the case. Personally, I subscribe to Apple Music; have a free one-year trial to Apple TV+ that I’m unlikely to ever pay for; can’t get the Apple Card in the UK; don’t subscribe to Apple Arcade; and rarely if ever notice app promos in the App Store.


This is absolutely a problem—I didn’t pay a thousand bucks for a phone, just to have Tim Cook use it as a billboard. I’d I wanted to be a tool for advertising, I’d use Android.

Most insidious by far are the push notifications. I could maybe live with having to dismiss a subscribe dialog when opening the app. Having the system interrupt me to try to sell something is so wrong Apple even has rules against it … not that they or anyone follow those rules. Frankly, that alone has made notifications worthless, since the lack of granularity means I’m just turning off everything.

Dave Mark:

We’ve all seen the wave of ads, seemingly everywhere you turn. Especially if you have not subscribed to a particular service. […] I get it. Apple’s market is maturing, and shareholders demand growth. Apple has turned to services for that growth and these ads are a necessary evil.

Kirk McElhearn:

What I don’t understand is why I see these ads in the iTunes Store, even though I subscribe to Apple Music.

Brian Webster:

Apple: Let’s see how many ads for our services we can get away with putting in our built-in apps.

Samsung: hold my beer.

Steve Streza:

To address some common rebuttals. […]

See also: Hacker News.

Update (2020-02-26): Tom Hagopian:

I thought this was fun. Also when I got an ad begging me to come back to @AppleMusic in the TV app.

William Gallagher:

Apple has not turned iOS into adware, yet we do get get more notifications of services than we did. That’s still a long way from having Mail’s inbox showing us banner ads for golf games and dating sites, though.

The Macalope:

While “adware” might be an exaggeration, particularly if you’re thinking about malicious adware, the textbook definition includes ad-supported software. You could argue that you opt in to the ads when you buy an iOS device and you can turn many of them off if you can find the settings, but is that the experience we’ve come to expect from Apple?

The Macalope wouldn’t say iOS is adware as it’s commonly known, but it does have too many ads. Streza’s more right than he is wrong.

Cory Doctorow:

The whole basis of Ios is not “walled garden” but “benevolent dictatorship.”

In exchange for irrevocably locking yourself to a platform defined by DRM and aggressive litigation to prevent interoperability, Apple implicitly promises that it won’t abuse that privilege.

This is a system that works well, but fails badly.

It requires that you rely on the outcomes of goings-on between executives and shareholders at one of the world’s most secretive corporations, a company that has threatened to sue journalists who refuse to narc on their sources.

But lock-in creates a distinctive microeconomic culture within a board-room or a company. Absent any lock-in, when one exec proposes something profitable (but bad for users), others can warn that this course of action is bad for the firm’s long-term health.

Once customers are locked into the system, though, the managers who have abusive ideas win the argument, provided that it’s a tiny, incremental wickedness that only makes things a LITTLE worse and holds out the promise of a LOT of money.

See also: TidBITS-Talk.

Update (2020-03-27): Austin Evans:

I don’t need Apple TV+ ads in the Settings app please stop

Update (2021-04-07): James White:

Apple: Your app’s launch screen isn’t a branding opportunity. Make it minimal and reflective of the app UI in its starting state, to create the illusion of the app starting instantly.

Also Apple: Plays an animated Apple Arcade splash screen at every launch of every game.

Ruffin Bailey:

That’s a notification on my Mac. Apparently iCloud is going to go away. This implies I can’t even use it, though of course all the stuff I have in iCloud continues to work now. I’m just headed to the state where I can’t add anything new until something is deleted. But why be measured when you can yell the sky is falling?


This little red warning stares at me every time I open Mail. The clear implication is that all of my email is about to go kaput.


As a whole, these seem like horribly unpolished, crass, rushed, used-car lot sales techniques.


Update (2021-10-28): Rob Griffiths:

Because I’ve chosen not to give Apple $10 a month for Apple Music, this is my reward in macOS Monterey: A huge non-removable ad for Apple Music, and the top section of my Music app is reserved for something I don’t have.

Talk about pushy.

Previously, you could turn off Apple Music and hide it.

Update (2021-11-29): See also: Hacker News.

Update (2022-05-24): Dominik Wagner:

Hey @Apple,

We need to talk. What has happened to you? These kind of banners used to be the sort of stuff that drove us from other platforms. Now every system App start can be a minefield for accidental additional subscriptions.

Not cool.

Update (2022-05-31): Jim Dalrymple:

Apple says @AppleMusic is ad free, yet I’m hearing 40 second ads for some shitty radio shows when I listen to Classic Rock. I’m paying for the service, you can’t have my money and put in ads too. Anything that interrupts my music is ad! You are better than this Apple! I hope!

Update (2022-06-06): Jason Snell:

Apple has taken to inserting ads into its “ad-free” on-demand radio stations. Yes, they’re ads for other Apple Music radio shows, but does it matter? The fact remains that if you listen to an Apple Music streaming radio station like Classic Rock or Alternative, you will eventually hear a 40-second ad for Zane Lowe or Strombo or other pre-recorded Apple Music radio episodes. What was once an ad-free music experience is now punctuated by… promo copy.

Update (2022-08-02): Casey Liss:

  1. this is gross
  2. it’s spam
  3. I was just listening to Apple Music an hour ago, on this device.

Update (2022-08-05): Ken Kocienda:

Settings in iOS is now a place for ads. Just awful. The part I care about is pushed to third place. This is what happens when pushing services becomes more important than providing me with the best computing experience.

I don’t want Apple TV+ ever, but I guess I can’t even decline it here for good. Options are “Yes” and “We’ll nag you again on another device”. Ugh!

Dave Wood:

It never goes away either. Keeps prompting me even though the deal expired. Even shows an expired date right in the ad.

Update (2023-09-04): Timothy Perfitt:

This happens multiple times a day:

  1. Open Mac
  2. Mac show air pods connected.
  3. A bit later, i press the air pods to continue playing my slapping music from the iPhone on Amazon Music.
  4. opens on my Mac and throws an ad in my face.

My Mac knows my intent but wants to sell me Music++ instead.

19 Comments RSS · Twitter

I wonder what about you're complaining. I use Apple's phone and pad products for some 8 years and I never saw an Apple add. Probably the described behavior is valid only in US.

The AppleTV Music app used to be great, with quick access to recently added music to my iTunes Match library always surfaced and with an option to hide Apple Music features. Now? It's an advertisement for Apple Music videos and music from pop stars I don't care about. Getting to my actual music is actively obscured.

[…] pretty depressing rundown of commentary on the idea that iOS Is becoming Adware.The kicker for me was this […]

It might not be so bad except Apple Music is actually the WORST music service of all. Despite their original stated intention to bring real curation and such to streaming music, years later it’s still the worst service for discovering and sharing music, has the worst selection of playlists, the worst radio stations. They haven’t done anything new that Spotify hasn’t already had for years and the radio isn’t nearly as good as Pandora. What does Apple Music bring to the table? Nothing except being baked into iOS. Apple can only “compete” when they give themselves an unfair advantage.

[…] bedroom waiting for my four year-old to finally fall asleep.) So, instead, let me just refer you to Michael Tsai’s website – who is basically the Apple dev community’s lead champion at assimilating all the […]

[…] Apple Promotes Its Services Through Pervasive and Often Disruptive In-App Advertising […]

The sheer audacity of NOT allowing me to play or even see my own purchased (mostly from iTunes) music in the music app while Apple attempted to download an advert for Apple Music shocked me when it first happened (a year or two back). As a result I have lost a lot of faith in Apple which seems to be undergoing a kind of retro 'Microsoftisation'.

>this is…not even close to the accepted meaning of the word “adware”.

Isn't adware just software that finances itself via advertising? This seems to be the case here. Apple is giving out some software for free (like OS updates), and financing it by showing ads for paid products. It's for paid products that are also from Apple, but I'm not sure that invalidates the meaning of the term.

As a financial and services company it’s obvious that Apple sees too many of its customers as “deadbeat”.

Just like banks and credit card companies have “deadbeat customers” who won’t go into debt, there simply aren’t enough of you buying overpriced endless subscriptions, looking at weepy AppleTV programs or using Apple Pay.

That you might want other apps in the stores or even a modicum of software quality, or even a macOS NOT turning into Windoze is immaterial to Apple’s pivot to services.

Tim Apple is making it very clear that any Apple product you buy will be subservient to Apple. And there’s nothing you can do about it, so like & subscribe, 5 star review and consume, dear Apple enduser, and all you devs “waiting in review.”

Thanks for attending my FUD Talk.

> I use Apple's phone and pad products for some 8 years and I never saw an Apple add. Probably the described behavior is valid only in US.

In the UK, the music app encourages me to subscribe to Apple Music roughly once a quarter, via what is essentially a popup ad whose dismiss button always moves around. Currently it's a X in the top-right hand corner, previously it was a button disguised as text.

Also in the UK, and Ireland too, if you open the Wallet app without having provided a credit card, you see a large image suggesting you register your card. On an iPhone 6, this confused my step-mother who couldn't see where her flight boarding passes were (they had been pushed below the "fold").

Both of these are using iOS 12.

On my Mac in the UK (running Catalina) I don't want Apple News, and was disgusted when a popup invited me to consider the latest Brexit mess in the middle of my day.

I avoid Apple's ads by avoiding Apple products lately: however that's hardly an endorsement of the platform. Apple's software suite is a mess: no overriding design; a focus on user-monetisation rather than user-experience; and a disconcerting record of instability and even data-loss.

Reading things like this makes me very happy that all my mac hardware is too old to run the latest version of Mac OS.

>Samsung: hold my beer.

The difference here is that there's no reason at all to use Samsung's app on your Samsung phone. I have a Note 9. I've never seen an ad from Samsung except in the Galaxy Themes app, which I only opened by accident. In fact, apart from that one example, I've never seen an ad in any of the apps I use.

@ Bryan

I'm in Central Europe. and the puzzle is solved.
In Settings > Privacy > Advertising > View Ad Information = Advertising information isn't available because Apple apps do not support advertising in your country.

[…] Apple: the services company? […]

This is an annoying trend, and far from an Apple only problem. Watching Amazon Prime content means seeing ads for Amazon produced content even when you have just watched the very same content. It annoyed me to the point, I first stopped watching Amazon produced content just to spite them and then later letting my Prime sub lapse completely. Roku has shown ads on the home screen forever too. Yet, the ads never get in way of the content and it does seem less scummy than the average tact taken by these companies. Should I mentioned every time I open Amazon Music or Google Play Music and get a subscribe now full page ad instead of my already paid for content (paid as in bought not rented)?

Even though I am no longer an "Apple guy" I have considered subscribing to Apple Music since it is the service with the biggest anime and video game soundtrack selection. While these other services have added some content over the years, someone at Apple was clearly a fan of the same genre as me and negotiated deals very early on with those labels.

Yeah I’m no longer an Apple guy. I’m an AdGuard Home guy, and need to make an Apple blocklist.

I finally found a use for my older macs: As AdGuard Home DNS sinkholes.

Kevin Schumacher

I tried to open the link you added on 4/7 to Ruffin Bailey by middle-clicking and it goes directly to

I finally copied the URL and pasted it into a new tab, whereupon I immediately get a popup saying I will accept cookies from Google and Disqus to proceed. Doing anything other than clicking OK (including switching tabs to write this very comment) results in an immediate redirect to

I can't tell if the redirect is an attempt at sarcasm (like if the user is that sensitive, they simply must use Duck Duck Go) or what, but it's both a) ironic that someone demanding you accept tracking cookies from Google and Disqus would send you to Google's privacy-focused competitor (again, maybe sarcasm), and b) incredibly user-hostile and I'm surprised you would link to such a site.

@Kevin -- Sorry, I had some bad cookie code in there for the GDPR requirements. I'm still not 100% sure what I did wrong, but it could kick you to the "no, I'd rather not use cookies" option without giving you a chance to ask.

The more recent link was to here:

My apologies for the trouble.

[…] at my day job because it puts things into perspective. Apple’s operating systems are also full of ads for its services but it is somewhat less intrusive than what I experience on my office desktop. Neither is good for […]

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