After launching five years ago in the United States, Apple’s search advertising service finally arrived in mainland China this week.
The feature, called Apple Search Ads, lets developers bid on an advertising slot based on users’ keyword search in the App Store, similar to how Google search ads work. JPMorgan previously estimated the giant’s annual ad revenue could top $11 billion by 2025, though the forecast didn’t have a breakdown for the search ad business.
“It’s likely that the long delay in launching Search Ads in China was due to Chinese government restrictions on the operation of advertising business in China. It seems that Apple has found a way around this, but at the cost of having to accept payments in foreign currencies and not being able to provide Search Tab ads,” says Rich Bishop, founder and CEO of AppInChina, a publisher that helps international apps launch in China.
Apple has itself been reining in on personalized advertising, letting users turn off data tracking by apps, a move that will inevitably roil the business models of Facebook and others dependent on third-party data to target ads.
China has historically been a strong market for Apple, but iPhones are increasingly losing their luster as a status symbol in the country with the rise of local offerings like Huawei. In the first quarter, however, Apple’s smartphone shipment saw a rebound thanks to Huawei’s slipping sales and the launch of the iPhone 12 family. The Chinese App Store is another important source of income for Apple.
In a five-page guideline, Apple outlines the qualifications for developers targeting ads at mainland Chinese users. There is a stack of industry-specific licenses that advertisers must obtain, which practically excludes most foreign entities from directly advertising in mainland China, as noted in a blog post by AppInChina.
To bid for search ads in China, apps would have to find local partners with all the government approvals in place.
The requirements for apps importing goods into China, for example, include not just a general license to run value-added internet businesses but also registrations with the relevant trade and customs authorities. Apple may even start asking for these permits from apps that simply want to publish in China, wrote AppInChina, as Apple continues to enforce rules set by the Chinese government as evident from its crackdown on gaming apps.
Updated with expert comments.