With the release of iOS 9, the ability to block ads and other content that slows down mobile websites has been a standout feature, if somewhat controversial. Soon after iOS 9’s launch, a number of app developers rushed to release their own content blockers on the App Store, and these apps quickly climbed the charts. With the abundance of content blockers available today, it’s not simply enough to compete on functionality. Developers entering the market must also now compete on quality, design, performance, as well as how their app will handle whitelisting of acceptable ads.
According to a former leading developer of the popular Mac web browser Camino, Sean Murphy, his new ad blocker called Distilled is up that challenge.
Camino, as you may recall, actually offered a “block web advertising” feature of its own back in the day, and was one of the only browsers to offer a setting like this that was actually built into the browser itself. Because of his past experience with Camino, Murphy says he was drawn into the content blocking conversation, and felt compelled to have his hand in the game.
The indie developer says his goal with Distilled is to develop the “nicest content blocker both in appearance and behavior,” starting with a beautiful icon that users won’t feel compelled to hide in a folder, and extending to the interface design itself.
More importantly, is that Distilled operates a little differently when it comes to performance. A number of the ad blockers arriving today “overdo” it a bit when it comes to the number of rules they support, says Murphy. He explains that Safari actually has to do a little processing itself each time a site is loaded by running down a blocker’s list of rules. So the more rules a blocker has, the longer that processing could take.
“I tried to find a balance of just the right amount of rules,” says Murphy. “As a former web browser engineer, I looked at the source code of Safari that actually powers the content blocking -it’s open source – and used that to help guide me a bit.”
His blocker, like others, will remove ads, overlays, pop-ups, tracking, and more, but will do so without overburdening Safari, the developer claims.
The app itself is minimalist in nature: there’s a setting to turn on or off ads and tracking, another to block online comments, then two additional, user-configurable settings. One allows you to where build your own whitelist of websites you want to support, and another, aimed at web developers, lets you block any CSS selector of your choice.
It’s also important to note that Distilled will not implement a whitelist of its own, nor will it accept money from others in order to whitelist their sites.
That’s been a point of contention and confusion with other mobile ad blockers, recently, as it came out that the popular blocker Crystal was rolling out an option that would allow users to enable or disable “Acceptable Ads” according to an included whitelist. This rubbed some people the wrong way, as the “Acceptable Ads” initiative allows companies to pay to be allowed through ad blockers, after meeting select criteria and guidelines. But that’s still too much of a conflict of interest, say some.
Distilled instead will not implement such a feature and will simply leave the whitelisting up to the end users. And this will always be the case, notes Murphy.
Meanwhile, the revenues from the $0.99 app will go to support Murphy’s other job of rescuing animals on a farm, he says, which is where he spends most of his time today, while funding his work with his engineering skills. “It’s the only content blocker that helps buy the hay at an animal rescue farm,” Murphy jokes.
I guess we’d rather give our money to animals than advertisers anyway?
Distilled is live on the App Store here.