App Store Optimization – 3 key iOS 14.5 changes to know

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Dave Bell, Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, outlines the most significant changes marketers need to be aware of with the roll-out of Apple’s latest operating system for the iPhone, iOS14.5. 

Apple recently rolled out its much-anticipated iOS update, iOS 14.5, and new rules for data collection and measurement have left many developers unsure of how to navigate these new policies. Apple’s iOS 14.5 changes the landscape for action-based user acquisition methodologies in the iOS App Store, which many mobile marketing experts and developers fear could substantially impact their campaign strategies.

Apple has received backlash for these new policy changes, but asserts that they are all part of its ongoing move towards increased user privacy and data collection transparency. Alongside these changes which impact external referral user acquisition, Apple has introduced a new type of Apple Search Ads placement within the App Store. Amidst the iOS 14.5 changes that may be controversial on the developer and marketing side, there are updates that may be appealing on the end-user side.

App Tracking Transparency and the post-IDFA era
Apple iOS 14.5 was released with an appeal to user privacy in the implementation of App Tracking Transparency (ATT). Data collection and user privacy protection have been featured prominently in the media for the past few years, and at face value sound beneficial to end users. Critics of personal data collection say it violates an individual’s privacy in order to improve acquisition metrics, while proponents argue these metrics are improved because targeted advertising improves user experience and overall satisfaction.
This change does not “remove” this tracking; rather, it puts the option of being tracked into the user’s hands. Users are made aware that their data will be tracked up-front, why it is being tracked, how it will be used and provided with the opportunity to choose to opt in rather than being opted in by default.

Until now, many mobile advertisers have used the Identification for Advertisers (IDFA) to track users across various sites and apps to gather information about how apps are used, which features are contributing to higher clickthrough and conversion rates, and what types of users will respond positively to different advertising techniques. These IDFAs are generated by analyzing device information, such as device ID, and user statistics, such as location and behavior, to generate a unique and persistent ID for individual users.

Integrating the ATT framework is a very binary requirement from Apple with the launch of iOS 14.5. Additional types of tracking that do not exactly gather an individual user’s specific information, yet still gather data to loosely track behavior for the purposes of advertising – processes referred to as “probabilistic attribution” or “fingerprinting” – have also been mostly outlawed by Apple. Opposed to the specific rules around ATT and IDFA, Apple has made a more catch-all statement to developers and marketers that “you may not derive data from a device for the purpose of uniquely identifying it.”

Apple has been cracking down on developers attempting to use workarounds and loopholes to continue tracking users with probabilistic matching, a type of pseudo-fingerprinting that uses a best-guess technique to generate IDFAs. There are a handful of avenues developers and advertisers can pursue to preserve key performance index (KPI) tracking and continue to get accurate statistics for conversion rates on the Apple iOS App Store to aid in user acquisition, while still staying within Apple’s new guidelines.

Along with these changes, Apple now offers developers a proprietary advertising measurement attribution framework called SKAdNetwork (SKAD). SKAD will provide advertisers and developers with relevant performance data at the campaign level, with restrictions in place to limit user visibility, such as time delays between install and reporting. SKAD has proven to be highly accurate in many cases, with last-click attribution found to only have an approximate 2 per cent variance from the 100 per cent accurate deterministic attribution. The main drawback of using SKAD as the means for analysis is lower efficiency when used alone, and the risk of attribution duplication when used in conjunction with (consenting) deterministic attribution.

A substantial effect on analysis on creatives, web-to-app conversion, and long-term visibility may be experienced on the SKAD framework, due to a lack of user-level data. Additionally, SKAD is not yet built in a way that can capture spoof clicks, which will skew metrics and potentially increase advertising costs.

With this in mind, some marketers are looking at combining SKAD with both probabilistic attribution and consenting deterministic attribution. This approach may be the most complex, but it may provide the most opportunity for gathering the relevant data needed for App Store Optimization.

One of the most important things to strive for is securing a higher opt-in rate for this data collection. This does not need to be accomplished in what may be seen as the previous “hidden” way of automatic opt-in; users still opt in to share their contact lists, camera permissions etc., so long as the purpose of doing so is outlined in a concise, honest way. While it is predicted that not many users will want to consent to sharing their personal data, clear language that cultivates trust may help facilitate opting in. The higher the percentage of users that opt-in to data collection, the more accurate conversion modelling will be, which extrapolates data from consenting users to more easily predict conversion rates for users who do not wish to share data.

While Apple has been in the hot seat over these new policies, global movement towards stricter regulations on data collection suggest that the era of deterministic attribution via IDFA are in their waning years. The European Union and the State of California both adopted data handling policies in 2018 with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) respectively. The private sector is also moving toward less invasive methods to acquire relevant data, with Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts coming to Android and the end of third-party cookies in Chrome, to name a few.

Overall, the general consensus is that it will be easier to implement SKAD and other approved data analysis strategies sooner, rather than later, to stay ahead of the curve and maintain profitability within the App Store as the digital advertising landscape changes.

While new apps submitted to the App Store must have the App Tracking Transparency framework integrated, existing apps are not currently required to make the change until they release a new version. Unless a developer never wants to make another update – which runs the risk of being removed in a potential sweep of “outdated” apps, such as the one Apple did in September of 2016 – they will eventually have to comply.

Changes to Apple Search Ads in the App Store
The iOS 14.5 changes also introduce a new feature for Apple Search Ads. A brand-new advertising area in the iOS App Store incorporates ads in the “Suggested” list on the search tab.

These ads will be featured as the first result in the Suggested area, and unlike previously existing search ads that only appear after a user conducts a search containing relevant keywords, this new slot will remain populated with ads without any input on the user’s part.

The combination of updated privacy rules which seem to hinder third party advertising, happening at the same time as an expansion of Apple Search Ads placements, has brought criticism from major players in the digital advertising industry. Facebook, for instance, has started a campaign to protest Apple’s new policies. They and other critics speculate that Apple has less concern for user privacy and more concern for growing as an advertising company. A growing fear is that these changes will kick other advertisers off of the platform, forcing developers to work solely with Apple when it comes to paid user acquisition advertising.

Features for users
While iOS 14.5 changes the landscape for digital advertising and data collection protocols, there are additional appealing features for users that may entice them to upgrade sooner rather than later, privacy changes aside. Among the user-facing updates are an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, as well as updated functionality to reflect changes brought about by the global pandemic.

In a move to extend inclusivity to a wider demographic, Apple has debuted new voices for Siri. Instead of being preconfigured to use the well-known “default voice,” users will be able to choose one of four voices for Siri during the device setup. Apple also updated the terms used in Siri’s setting to be more neutral in nature, with “gender” being changed to “voice” and “accent” now labelled “variety.”

Another move for diversity in the iOS 14.5 changes surround the widely used and well-loved emojis. Apple has introduced six brand-new emojis and updated the couples-kissing and couples-heart emoji to provide the option to change the skin tone of the individual characters instead of both at once.

In further keeping up with the changing times, Apple has provided a feature called iPhone Unlock with Apple Watch. This update is useful for people who are accustomed to using facial recognition for unlocking their devices. Due to the global pandemic, Face ID had lost its convenience and practicality due to the use of face masks obscuring a user’s facial features.

With a combination of advanced partial facial recognition technology and Apple Watch integration, users who have both an iPhone and an Apple Watch may now use the Apple Watch to securely unlock their iPhones while wearing face masks. The Apple Watch must be unlocked and worn, and with a tap on the watch and a glance at the iPhone’s rear-facing camera, the iPhone will unlock successfully, without the need to remove facial coverings.

Apple iOS 14.5 changes a few features available in Apple Maps as well. The new Incident Report feature allows users to flag an accident, hazard, or speed trap on Apple Maps to alert other Apple users ahead of time. An additional update to Apple Maps is the ability to send an ETA while walking or cycling by tapping the icon on the bottom of the app’s display.

Another much anticipated feature in iOS 14.5 is the release of Apple Air Tags, Apple’s addition to the growing device tag market. Apple Air Tags work within the Find My app network, and incorporate visual, audible, and haptic feedback in precision mode to aid users in their search. While the advertising and privacy changes have been getting most of the media attention, these changes among others available to users are another aspect to keep in mind when planning marketing campaigns and app updates.

Apple’s iOS 14.5 changes many aspects of the iOS landscape, many of particular interest to app developers and mobile marketing firms. While these changes may seem daunting at first, it is important to stay ahead of the curve and adjust App Store optimization strategies accordingly.

The full impact of this update is yet to be seen, but as more users upgrade to iOS 14.5, and more developers update their apps to be in compliance with ATT, we will get a clearer picture of what strategies will work best to continue monitoring key performance indexes.

The best move now for developers and advertisers to maintain optimization of apps within the App Store is to diversify their repertoire of tools and marketing strategies, deploy campaigns and measure the impact, and always be prepared to adapt to new ways of analyzing important data.

About the Author
Dave Bell is Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, a global leader in App Store Optimization with more than 11 years of experience optimizing and marketing apps. We offer the leading enterprise ASO technology and agency services, providing support to clients around the world. Our company is trusted by thousands of enterprise brands and leading startups including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Bethesda, SWEAT, GrubHub, McAfee and many others.