Apple announced iAd Producer on Monday, a new toolkit with for rapid and easy production of iAd content. The goal is clearly to increase the ease, and therefore volume, of iAd content creation moving forward.

The news resurrected some online discussion about iAd itself. Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch asked via Twitter:

how come iAd isn’t an Objective-C based technology?

My reply was terse, so I’ll elaborate here. There are, in fact, a few reasons—both technical and non-technical—that iAd is web-based and not native.

Remote hosting

Serving targeted ads means deciding exactly what ad you’re serving, and to whom, at any given moment. The relatively lightweight assets and logic behind web content meet these needs nicely. Making the decision on the server, and then delivering the goods quickly, is what (good) web technology is all about.


Why can’t the ad downloads be bundles of native code, instead of HTML/CSS/JavaScript? Isn’t native code faster? Can’t the native SDK do more than HTML5? For starters, third-party iOS apps are currently unable to load external native libraries on-the-fly. This technical restriction would have to be lifted in some fashion for native iAds to be a reality. This would be not just a huge policy reversal, but a security and stability headache as well: errant or rampant web code is generally less dangerous than errant or rampant native code. WebKit is already on every iOS device, with zero system changes. It’s not worth the trouble.


Today’s online advertising revolves around the web. The brands behind the ads, and the agencies they hire, have armies of web designers and engineers, and selling them on Objective-C is the wrong battle to fight. This is a brand-new business for Apple, with well-established competitors. If you want to steal customers, you start by making life easy for them. Combined with the sandbox issues above, the decision becomes a no-brainer.


If iAd were a native technology, its scope would immediately be limited to “Apple platforms with a modern Objective-C runtime.” With more than 120 million iOS devices out there, and tens of millions of new Macs in the last few years, that doesn’t sound so bad. But why limit yourself? Those products can all display web-based content, along with modern computing devices from any other company.

In the long term, Apple can do anything it wants with web-based iAds: make them available to iOS web apps; place them in its own MobileMe web applications; drop them at the bottom of every iTunes Movie Trailers page; offer banners for MobileMe galleries and split the profits with the owner; include them in AppleTV content to subsidize lower rental prices (and finally turn that hobby into a business).

I won’t argue Apple should do any of these things, nor do I have any idea whether or not it will. But it is reasonable to assume Apple has larger plans for iAd than what we currently see on iOS. The question is, can it gain and maintain the sponsor deals to make it a serious player in the advertising space? People are still waiting. An expanded audience and familiar, open-standard technology will only improve its chances.