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Apple’s ‘Spring Loaded’ event loud on product news, quiet on IDFA updates

Tim Cook was notably tight-lipped about impending privacy changes at Apple's "Spring Loaded" event / Apple

Today Apple hosted its first 2021 event, ‘Spring Loaded’, unveiling a range of new product updates. Notably missing was any significant update on the upcoming rollout of iOS 14.5, which will introduce a new privacy framework set to disrupt digital advertising.

Apple’s spring event saw a range of product launches and updates that will expand the company’s offerings, including the long-awaited new iMac, a new iPad Pro and new AirTags for tracking lost items.

For marketers, however, the silence of chief exec Tim Cook on new privacy updates was perhaps the loudest moment of all.

Cook announced that iOS 14.5 will be made available to consumers next week – but did not specify a date. Nor did he provide any further details regarding the new privacy framework that will roll out in conjunction with the update, which includes opt-in requirements for cross-app tracking that will create a range of new hurdles for marketers.

Apple's new privacy framework represents a shifts from the traditional model by which users opt out of sharing their Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) — Apple’s device-based identification solution — to a consent-based opt-in model. On devices running iOS 14.5, upon launching an app that shares data with other apps, users will receive a pop-up notification explaining how the tracker will be used and prompting users to either opt in or opt out. The new policy adds to a growing movement toward privacy-centric advertising, which will only accelerate with the impending death of the third-party cookie.

Apple’s key product updates

Today Apple revealed a suite of new products, including the following:

  • iMac: The iMac has undergone a design overhaul. The new iMac, available in seven colors, is slimmer and takes up 50% less volume than its predecessor. It’s powered by the M1 microprocessor. Plus, the display is of similar quality to the Pro Display XDR monitor of 2019 and features lower reflectivity and improved color quality. iMac’s speakers and cameras also received new upgrades.
  • iPad Pro: The star of ‘Spring Loaded’ was the announcement of the new iPad Pro with 5G capabilities. Like the new iMac, the new iPad Pro is powered by the M1 microprocessor and features an improved display. In the last few quarters, iPad sales have seen 41% year-on-year growth, thanks in large part to stringent lockdowns that have consumers using electronic devices more than ever.
  • AirTags: Apple’s ‘Find My Network Accessory Program’ – the program that enables users to locate their lost products using Bluetooth capabilities – was recently made available to third-party manufacturers. To complement the expansion, Apple has debuted AirTags, small Bluetooth-enabled trackers that can be attached to any item, such as a wallet or set of keys. Using the Find My app on any device with a U1 chip, users can locate lost items with a high degree of accuracy.
  • Other updates: In addition to these updates, Cook announced the launch of the $200m Restore Fund, a new partnership with Goldman Sachs with the goal of eliminating a million tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year. The company also unveiled a premium Apple Podcasts subscription service, updates to the Apple TV display, a new Apple remote for Apple TV and expanded family options for Apple Card.

Why it matters

  • Apple is prepping for big earnings call on 28 April. Analysts are predicting more than 30% increase in year-on-year revenue.
  • In the meantime, “everyone in the ad space is waiting in anticipation” of new updates from Apple and other key players who will define the future of advertising, said Jess Simpson, senior vice-president of global identity and technology at Publicis Media.
  • “There is very little settled science on how [Apple’s ATT] will manifest ... We know that data will be more aggregated, less accessible and delayed. We know we have to lean in to data science to do more with less. We also know that leading with privacy-first business models without sacrificing consumer experiences is tricky, but it’s also non-negotiable. Consumer privacy isn’t an area that should be viewed as something we have to ‘manage’; we have to lead with data stewardship and utility. Now we just have to do that with even more complicated workflows.”
  • Paul Roberts, chief executive and founder of ad buying and selling platform Kubient, said: “It’s not surprising that Apple is keeping privacy changes close to their chest right now. The advertising landscape keeps finding ways to adapt to disruptions by Apple, Google, Facebook, and other tech giants, so by staying quiet, they are trying to slow the industry’s ability to adapt.
  • “I expect there to be a lot of speculation from the industry on what’s to come, but I don’t foresee Apple sharing any hints until they tighten up the new regulations and updates on their end – leading the industry to massively shift its current practices.” Even so, Roberts doesn’t think the marketing sector will be upended by these changes. “Tech companies and advertisers are already working on more privacy-driven ways of surviving in the new world, so I don’t foresee too much disruption, given what is already in practice.”

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