Armistice in war on Peace

Posted on by Mike Evans

An odd thing happened last week. A little application that would suppress unwanted advertising in iPhone applications was launched on the same day as the arrival of the new iOS9 operating system. No more would we be assailed by intrusive ads. For years I’ve been running similar software—my favourite is Adblock—on the Mac and it does its job well.

Peace promised similar utility and, at $2.99, was the sort of useful little tool I felt I could employ. I was immediately smitten because the author is Marco Arment, a well-respected tech commentator and the father of the fabulous Instapaper, although he has since sold it on.

What I didn’t realise was the the tech world was seething about Peace. Other developers who rely on advertising to fund their projects were aghast. Peace rapidly took off, such was the demand for an ad-free environment, and within days it became the best-selling application in the App Store. Marco came in for much flack. How could he do this to all his hardworking mates who spew forth free apps and free blogs but need a bit of income on the side? The tech world declared war on Peace.

Marco, to his credit, listened to his peers and on September 18 he pulled Peace from the App Store, offering a refund to the thousands of people who had downloaded the application. This must have cost him many thousands of dollars and all credit to Marco for his altruism.

Nonetheless, I am left with a nagging suspicion that iPhone and iPad users really would welcome an advertisement blocker such as Peace. If Marco doesn’t do it, many others will. Indeed, a new app, Crystal, has just launched and is climbing the charts.

I tend to shy away from free apps supported by advertising. If an app is worth its place on my home screen I don’t mind paying a nominal sum to have a pure experience without intrusion. Yet I feel sorry for Marco Arment. While I can understand the arguments of his critics, I do believe he was fulfilling a need with Peace. 

The hoo-ha strikes a deeper chord. How many of us, when watching a pre-recorded television programme, can resist fast-forwarding through the ads? Do we sit there and dutifully watch all the advertising because we owe it to the whole television industry to do our bit? No, every last one of us FFs to the start of the next section of the video. The fact is, we don’t like advertising, none of us does. We don’t like the time it takes before we get back to the interesting content we were viewing before the commercial break. 

It’s a dilemma for content producers. Without advertising there would be no money to pay for productions, unless produced by the BBC with its compulsory annual levy on every household in the country. On the other hand, technology is providing us with ways to avoid doing our duty to watching commercial material. It’s difficult to see how the balance can be maintained.

Note: This morning Apple decided to refund all Peace purchases