If Apple’s version of the digital universe were to reach real scale, then alongside privacy legislation, it poses the greatest challenge to the development of digital. 

One day this May, when Apple’s
market cap took it past Microsoft
, alarm bells should have been ringing
much more loudly in the digital sector than they did.

Apple’s new peak, at $221bn, $3bn more than Microsoft, was
reached the month after the company had unveiled the iPad
and its mobile
advertising platform, iAds
. In other words, it was the month after Apple’s long-awaited
media play became reality.

Those in the first wave of iAds were recently revealed, have a look at Nissan’s
iAd for the Leaf electric car
to see one of the first examples. It is a
reminder that we should be thinking about how on earth our existing digital
ecosystem remains relevant when Apple’s own is growing evermore powerful. For
this is at least as challenging a trend as privacy legislation, the rise of
social media, or the new, ‘network’ approach to display advertising.

The threat of Apple is revealed in its model of success. The
company has built the best, most usable consumer electronics on the planet by
keeping the development of device and operating system, the first two steps in
a user’s path to accessing content or services on any device, in exactly the
same place. It also exercises fierce control over the third step: application.

This model is the only way to deliver seamless user
experiences but it also ensures that everyone else is locked out. Consider some
examples of how the developing, parallel digital ecosystem built by Apple might
be a real problem for the existing industry:

  • In Apple’s world, the browser of choice, Safari, does not accept 3rd-party cookies by default. How can we target/retarget/behaviourally
    target ads to users and gain (and remember) their permission for these things when
    we can’t cookie them?
  • In Apple’s world, the advertising platform, iAds,
    in no way syncs with existing ad serving systems such as DoubleClick. How can we serve and track campaigns across
    both platforms in an integrated way?
  • In Apple’s world, all the development going on
    outside it is, at best, tangential. How can we plan, innovate and develop for
    two, parallel, universes?

If Apple’s version of the digital universe were to reach real
scale, then it poses an enormous challenge
to the development of digital. One signal of its success is the amount of
people accessing digital content through Safari compared with other browsers.

TagMan.com’s site analytics reveals that, over the past year, share of traffic to
the site via Safari grew more than 80%, a higher growth in share than any other
browser.

If more people are coming to digital services through the
Apple-controlled ecosystem of which Safari is a fundamental part, then cookies, and all the digital marketing and media that rely on them, are in danger of becoming obsolete.