Apple has indicated that it may withdraw developer access to unique device identifiers (UDIDs) on the iPhone, which could have major implications for the way ads are served within applications on the device. Networks and analytics companies often make use of the mechanism to target, frequency cap, and track mobile ads, serving a similar purpose as cookies do on desktop computers.
The Cupertino-based hardware giant has indicated that access to UDIDs will begin to be phased out in the next iteration of its iOS mobile operating system, due for release later this year. Although use of the IDs will remain possible in iOS 5, the company has flagged their use as “deprecated” in its developer documentation, suggesting access will eventually be removed entirely.
That prospect could have large-scale effects on developers and mobile ad networks, which rely on the technology for a range of purposes.
“If UDID access is eliminated it will impact advertisers’ ability to use certain types or campaign management and reporting tools, but it will hurt the app developer in the long run,” said Paran Johar, CMO of mobile ad network JumpTap. Restrictions around the use of the IDs will limit developers’ ability to successfully monetize their software, he suggested, since the ability of ad companies to target and track ads will be inhibited.
Johar went on to suggest the move could spur more developers to use Apple’s own iAd network, which relies less on UDID data to target ads since it has access to demographic and behavioral data gleaned through iTunes and its AppStore.
Meanwhile Joe Sipher, co-founder and chief product officer of application development firm Pinger, was primarily concerned about the implications the change might have on the functionality of his apps, but acknowledged the potential effect for ad networks also. Some of Pinger’s apps are monetized through advertising.
“The problem is they’re changing it and it’s already a part of the ecosystem. It means a lot of work, and companies will have to spend their time reconfiguring instead of innovating,” Sipher said.
Despite that fact, Sipher suggested ad firms will find a workaround to replace UDIDs. Such technology could include device fingerprinting, for example, which assigns devices a similar unique identifier and can be used to target and track ads in the same way.
Sipher pointed out, however, that some developer features that were deprecated in iOS 3 remain functioning in iOS 5. It’s possible, therefore, that access to UDIDs may continue to be made available to developers in future releases of the operating system.