Popular desktop ad-blocking software Adblock Plus, which has some 50 million+ monthly active users worldwide, has finally launched an iOS app. It’s also managed to convince Google to allow its ad-blocking browser for Android back in the Play Store, noting that this is the first time since March 2013 it’s been allowed in the Google-controlled Android app store.
Speaking to TechCrunch back in July, ABP’s head of ops, Ben Williams, said the company was planning to launch an Adblock Plus browser for iOS in “early fall/late summer”. So they’re spot on in their timing.
Clearly the company was eager to get its app live before the widespread availability of iOS 9 — which introduces a content blocking feature to the platform that will enable developers to more easily create ad blockers and other content blockers for the platform, spawning more competition for Adblock Plus. (But arguably also raising mobile users’ awareness about ad-blockers as a general category — ABP dubs the move “a big step for this industry” in a statement today.)
While ABP has built a successful business on the desktop, the switch to mobile computing is more of an implementation challenge. In the case of its approach with these browser apps, it’s having to rely on users downloading and using a dedicated browser for ad-blocking — rather than being able to work as an extension on the native browsers (a route that’s blocked to it for now).
APB’s Android browser app has been in beta since May, and it says more than 300,000 people have downloaded it since then to kick the tyres. Having the app in the Play Store will of course enhance its visibility and discoverability. (ABP has previously described its software as “practically invisible to the vast majority of mobile users” thanks to being ejected from Google’s app playground.)
It’s an interesting shift on Google’s part — but likely Mountain View’s hand is being forced here by Apple’s own move to clear a path for iOS users to more easily choose what types of content they do and don’t want to see by giving developers a web content blocking tool.
The wider point here is that mobile data can be costly, so sites larded with ads are not only annoying users by slowing down page loads times, but may also actively be costing them money by gobbling up their data allowance. Not to mention the other big issue here: hugely invasive tracking and ad-targeting technologies that are being increasingly deployed by advertisers.
“Adblock Plus is very excited and grateful to have our app, Adblock Browser for Android, available in the Google Play Store,” noted Till Faida, co-founder of Adblock Plus, in a statement, without elaborating on exactly how that feat was achieved.
ABP claims its Android and iOS browsers offer safer, more private, faster and more efficient browsing. It also touts reduced battery drain as an added benefit of blocking ads while browsing, along with claims of a reduced risk of malware infection.
But what about online publishers’ business models if everyone starts blocking ads? ABP notes that its browsers let users support websites by whitelisting them (and thus their ads). So publishers can appeal to their users to whitelist their ads, and/or improve the quality of their ads to make them less irritating.
Other controls offered to users of the ABP browsers include the ability to add additional filter lists, to customize the content that’s blocked, and change the default setting to block all ads — i.e. opting out of ABP’s own whitelisted ads (which it calls ‘acceptable ads’).
On iOS the company is also touting an “intuitive tab functionality” (vs Safari’s accordion style) and easier bookmarking, as well as claiming scrolling is smoother. Plus it’s tweaked the keyboard layout with an eye on browsing convenience, such as putting a .com button in pride of place.
A quick roadtest of the browser on iOS appears to confirm small speed enhancements when loading websites via the ABP browser vs standard Safari (and of course no annoying pop-ups), however the app also crashed during this test so it looks like there are a few teething stability issues for ABP to iron out.