Why I Abandoned iAds

Up until last August, one of my iOS apps, XForm, used iAds. The app was free, and instead was supposed to generate revenue from ad impressions and clicks. While I won’t disclose revenue numbers, let’s just say that the actual income was very, very, very, very small (very). As in a few tens of dollars over a 1 year period. To say it was underwhelming would be an understatement. I decided that, with the release of iOS 5, I would update the app, change the price to Tier 1 (so, $0.99 in the US and Canada), and remove iAds. It was an opportunity to redo the interface as well, because I wasn’t happy with how awkward it could be to find the unit converters.

I won’t claim that my experience is typical. I’ve heard of other iAd-supported apps that have made serious money. I am quite sure that part of my problem was the nature of the app. It is a unit converter, helping convert between things like miles and kilometres or pounds and ounces. That means a particular usage profile, which is typically comprised of very short sessions. My analytics showed that people generally used the app for less than 1 minute on average, which means that they would see, at best, 2 ads during their session. Of the apps experiencing tremendous success with iAds, most appear to be long-use apps like games and news/RSS readers, where the user spends tens of minutes, or even an hour plus, using the app. My other challenge was that XForm is used in 84 countries around the world, but at the time of the introduction of iAds, only the US and UK were supported for ad display. My biggest audience and user base in terms of actual sessions wasn’t in the US. Users in the UK dominated the app’s usage, but the sessions from all of the other countries added up to some serious numbers, relatively speaking.

Why did I use iAds initially? There were two main motivations. The first was that it was simple from a business process perspective: I already had my payments and contracts set up with Apple, so there was no need to set up something similar. I did have to agree to an additional contract, but everything else (taxes, payment) remained the same. The second was the payment for display, not just for clicks. At the time, iAds was unique in this respect. These two factors were the primary reason why I wanted to try it. It also helped that integrating iAds into an app was nearly trivial, and it had the benefit of remaining in the app if the user clicked on the banner (many other ad services stopped the app and jumped into Safari to display the ad details).

However, after a year, the results were not encouraging. Again, I won’t claim I am typical, and I wouldn’t counsel against using iAds. I would suggest, though, that anyone considering iAds seriously look at how the app is used, and where it will be used. The best success seems to be apps aimed at a US audience, and ones that will be used for sustained durations.

In the end, I took iAds out, and have now officially made more money selling the app in the past 4 months that I did in the first year of iAds (although downloads have dropped by an order of magnitude). I may explore iAds again, and I may also look at other ad services for future apps. I won’t discount it entirely. But for now, I am sticking with paid apps.