Apple opens up audience retargeting on iAd, but is it too little too late?

Apple has decided to pay a bit more attention to its flagging iAd network with the announcement of audience re-targeting and app deeplinking features.
Mobile app advertisers using iAd can now track users across iOS 8 apps and websites, in order to fire more targeted messages in the battle for re-engagement. Following years of cookie-less misery, re-targeting is fast becoming a standard feature of mobile ad networks and was a key theme during the recent App Promotion Summit in London. Apple is no doubt hoping some of that hype will rub off on iAd, which has been underperforming- to put it mildly – since it launched back in 2010. Back then, Steve Jobs predicted iAd would capture 48% of the mobile ad market. Fast forward to 2014 and iAd’s share is more like 3%.
Apple announces audience retargeting on iAd
Perhaps it’s not surprising Apple has now perked-up, as mobile ad spend appears to be entering a new phase, while rival platforms such as Facebook are ramping-up their game with Audience Network and Atlas, which allows advertisers to track the user journey between mobile and desktop.
iAd is also allowing cross-device retargeting, enabling advertisers to track users from an iPad to an iPhone. All of this is of course being done via the Apple ID, which is perhaps slightly more reliable than Facebook’s system, which requires the user to be logged into the social network on all devices (but has the benefit of being cross-platform and not locked into one eco-system).
Apple new audience re-targeting also lets advertisers deep link into certain areas of an app, which is a vital piece of the re-engagement puzzle. With deep linking you can – for instance – direct a user to specific product in a retail app, based on their past activity, or even launch a lapsed user into the most engaging level of a mobile game. This has long been a feature on desktops, but is only just starting to emerge in the world of mobile apps.
It will be interesting to see if Apple starts paying more attention to iAd over the next year. The Apple brand, which is so reliant on product, protecting the consumer experience and privacy, has always sat rather uncomfortably with its ad network business . Apple has recently beefed-up its iAd executive team and revenues are growing,  but given the increasing amount of competition and investment heading into the mobile ad sector, it may be too little too late.