David Tiltman
Jul 7, 2010

All about Apple's Safari Reader

Apple's latest version of its Safari internet browser comes with a sting in the tail - for publishers, at least. A feature called Safari Reader has been introduced that allows consumers to fade out the ads around an article on a website.

All about Apple's Safari Reader

As with most things Apple does, the feature has started tongues wagging in Silicon Valley. What could Apple be up to? And what does it mean for those companies that rely on online advertising?


1. The feature is part of the recently launched Safari 5.

According to Apple's website, the new-look browser is able to detect when a web user visits a site containing what it calls 'an article'. At the click of a button, the user is able to black out the 'annoying ads and other visual distractions' to focus on the story.


2. It's not the first time technology has been introduced to do this.

There are plenty of add-ons for web browsers that block online ads, email sign-ups and other visual elements. These include Readability, Instapaper and Add-Art.

Arun Kumar head of digital for Mediabrands Asia-Pacific, points to IE Pro, an add-on for Internet Explorer, but adds that these tools are not widely advertised for one reason. "Imagine Microsoft's MSN ads getting blocked because a user used IE Pro. [There would be a] big-time loss of revenue."

Kumar adds that advertisers will know if users are blocking ads "The ad will fail to load if an ad blocker is used and therefore no impressions will be credited. It can theoretically lead to a problem for publishers since their inventory can get limited if suck blockers are used."


3. But if the technology is already in the market, why is there so much fuss about Apple doing it?

For a start, Safari is the default browser on the iPhone and iPad, making it highly visible to tech-savvy early adopters. Another reason is that, unlike Microsoft or Google (which has Chrome, its own browser, plus a partnership with Mozilla's Firefox), it does not have a major interest in the online advertising space.

That means it has nothing to lose by introducing this feature and encouraging people to use it. Indeed, some of the wilder conspiracy theories on the tech blogs argue that Apple has plenty to gain. After all, it has recently introduced iAd, its own platform for selling ads within mobile applications.

One argument goes that Apple could be trying to push advertisers away from banner ads and toward a format that it can control and make money from.


4. However, publishers need not rip up their business models just yet.

For a start, Safari is a minnow in the global browser wars. According to Netmarketshare, Safari 4.0 had just 3.8 per cent of the global browser market in April this year, compared with more than 20 per cent for Firefox variants, and more than 60 per cent for versions of Internet Explorer. While Safari may be growing on the back of Apple's success, it is not about to become a major player.


5. Another reason to be cheerful is that Safari 5 does not block all ads on all sites.

It requires a user to hit a button when they are on a site on which they do not want visual distractions. That, say some, puts the onus on publishers to avoid making their sites too cluttered or to sell formats that interrupt a reader. Those that follow this advice should not have too many problems with Safari-style blocks.

"If publishers provide great content and useful tools to the audience, and are also sympathetic to the reader experience, there should be no need for them to use this type of technology," says Hiroko Hoshino, regional online director for the Financial Times. "If readers decide that the site bombards them with indiscriminate advertising, then they have a higher incentive to make use of ad-blocking."

That view is backed by Kumar, who argues Apple's move is a wake-up call for publishers to think more about the reader. He points to "plainly irritating" ad formats such as roll-overs that open every time the cursor rolls over them. "For publishers, such software is a warning that consumers do have tools to block your content."


What it means for...


  • Ad-blocking technology exists already, but has not gained widespread acceptance. Companies such as Microsoft and Google are publishers themselves, so have an interest in nurturing the online ad market.
  • That said, publishers cannot take consumer acceptance of advertising for granted. Responsible publishers already bear the user experience in mind when developing and selling ad formats. Indeed, Dan Calladine, head of media futures at Isobar, argues that some of the more intrusive formats like pop-ups and interstitials (ads that appear before you get to the site you want to reach) have already been phased out by publishers keen to make their sites as usable as possible.
  • One potential benefit of Safari 5 is that it allows consumers to make a decision on ad-blocking on a site-by-site basis.



  • Media owners will know if an ad is being blocked, so their advertisers should not be paying for ads that are not being seen, though it's worth checking the situation with the media agency handling the account.
  • Brands should beware of ad formats that are overly intrusive. Consumers have a growing number of tools with which to ignore them.
  • Marketers interested in experimenting with the iPhone or iPad should keep an eye on how this situation develops.

This article was originally published in the 1 July 2010 issue of Media.

Campaign Asia

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