Tip Day Thursday – iOS 9 Content Blockers

I know, you're like what does an iOS post have to do with Disney? Well directly, not a thing! However, many like myself have come to suf the web off mobile devices and Safari for iOS is the majority of the market. So I'm getting my geek hat on this week. I do apologize that it's actually Friday, but this week was a bit chaotic. Yes, there are tons of Android based phones and tablets running anything from Chome to Dolphin to Firefox and a lot more. Several of which have had ad blocking for a while. In fact you could have had it on iOS for a while if you jailbreaked the device. So what's the big deal? The big deal is multi-fauceted: First, a major company basically endorsed your right to have a better web experience (there are other reasons for them). Second, in the long term it may change how you get your Disney (and other) content. Let me say, Stitch's Home does not advertise at all, I have no stake in it whether you use them or not. It's upto you if you do, though after some background I'll cover a few of the hot ones that have come out.

Skip the background.

Lets do a little background, though I'll refrain from getting into the geeky, nitty gritty. In general, it's assumed by many sites there is an unspoken agreement to accept their advertisements and possibly tracking in exchange for teir content. This isn't all sites, some pay to keep the proverbial lights on in other ways by selling goods, just charging to get to part or all of their content, or selling a service, etc. Though yes it is likely they advertise those things elsewhere. What this is really driving at is the publishers: news sites, most blogs, and the like. The problm is since the dawn of the web, advertising tried harder and harder to get the users attention. It makes sense, they wanna make money, so the better response their ads do, the better off they are. However, they also by and large become more and more annoying (who remembers the pop up and pop under craze?).

This led to the eventual rise of software to stop the annoyance. Thus began the advertising arms race. It's escalated to where on a desktop its not unlikely someone will pop a plug in or extension to block them. Some will help support sites they like by white listing them, Some just eliminate every ad they can. Amidst all of this rose the trend of smartphones and tablets and more and more people surfing on them, even on expensive limited data plans. At first a lot of sites were horrid due to being designed for traditonal computers, but as time passed mobile versions of sites started popping up to meet the demand, initially with lss advertising as most demand will still on the traditional pc. As it grew advertising started working on the mobile game as did web tracking to power ads and social media. You'd be amazed at what companies like Facebook and Google actually know about you.

Anyway, here is the deal, a lot of the ads or poorly optimized and/or poorly designed. Some or plain irritating (gotten yanked out of browser to an app store lately without clicking anything?). All this translates into your pages loading slower and eating up more data on your expensive plans. And sometimes they are so bad, the page can't load or flat out crashes the browser. Now we have Apple entering the fray in the name of user experience and the right to privacy. And they made it easy to turn on, though not on by default. You simply hop onto the app store and install a content blocker like any app, possibly toggle a few setting in it, and hop over to Settings and find Safari.

There you'll find a Content Blockers option and you just go turn it on and you are done and blocking whatever content that blocker supports. They aren't just ad blockers, depending on the particular one, it may can eliminate tracking scripts, images, external fonts, comments, or dozens of other things. Just keep in mind sometimes, what might get caught by a filter may make the site render wrong or not at all. In generl the ad blocking and tracking ones will render fine, it's some of the others that can cause oddball hiccups along. That said, Apple lets you reload a page without the content blocker on right from the browser in case you run into problems.

Okay so you may be wondering about Apple's intentions, well there is a boon for them in this. The content blockers only work on Safari, or apps relying on the Safari rendering engine. Any native app using the currently still available older engine or Apple's iAD network native apps use wont be blocked. Such as the brand new Apple News app that came with iOS 9. Apple makes a 30% cut on ads off it's network. So there is financial benefit to nudging assorted publishers towards alternatives, granted there are some others in the works as well by companies like Facebook. So truth be told, Apple's not doing it just to champion the user.

So what this means is right now, if you use these you'll get a drastically improved experience when reading assorted news andinformation sites that have been heavy on advertising on their pages. On down the road the boost will be less noticible as the have to find new ways to make money be it pay walls or going to some form of native app instead of a webpage or some other means. They are basically getting pushed into a sink or swim situation that's honestly been building for years. A debate on whether the users browser and bamdwidth versus the content providers need to keep the lights on. For sites you trully like, you should consider white listing them so they can still make a bit of advertising money.

Okay I've rambled on long enough on what's going on, lets talk about a few these new toys! So far I've tested Crystal, 1Blocker, Blockr, and Purify. If you want a simple set it and forget it, then go with Crystal. There's no fancy options, it just runs. There have been reports that some folks have had issues with it, foretunately it worked fine for my testing.

I was going to review Peace (the #1 paid app in the US iTunes App Store within 36 hours), but it seems the developer “suddenly” had a change of heart and has pulled it from the store. Suppose the Sith were right then, “Peace is a lie.” Moving on before I get into a full rant and way off topic…If you are interested in the entire rant I'll add a link here to that later this weekend.

If you are a power user that loves having control to fine tune or even run your own filters, then 1Blocker is for you. It's free version simply block one set of filters (IE: Ads or trackers, etc). Paying to upgrade to the Pro version lets you run multiple filters and customize almost everything. Moving to more of the middle ground are Blockr and Purify. They add a few options similar to Peace, but don't allow the massive flexibility of 1Blocker.

As I mentioned, Peace was number one til it's departure, for a time afterwards Crystal then held #1 followed by Purify at #2. Currently as of this writing Crystal was bumped down to #2 by Minecraft and Purify had dropped to #6. Personally they are my favorites that I tried. Below is each ones option screens. Some also allow assorted tie in's to the Safari or in some cases other app share/action button. This might be open site with this content blocker or something like report site that broke or ads still showed up, etc.

As for speed increases you may see, well that can vary about depening on your general surfing trends. I was averaging 3-5 second boosts on several Disney related sites, and it's been reported and I've seen significant boosts on sites like CNN, MacWorld, iMore, Kotaku, etc. Those varied but dropped quite a bit.





Some benchmarks



The benchmarks from the developer sites and MacWorld. My own experience corresponds pretty closely to these while trying some of their sites along with assorted Disney sites (both owned by the mouse and assorted fan/commuity info sites like Stitch's Home).

The biggest catch t these is you have to have a 64 bit processing device to install them. That was a choice made by Apple so for iPhones that's a 5s or higher and iPads that's Ipad Air, Air 2, or the new Pro. In the iPad Mini line it is the Mini 2 and up, and the 6th generation iPod Touch. Perhaps down the road Apple will open it up to older devices but you may be able to get some ad relief looking at the Adblock Browser, which is made from the people that built the AdBlock Plus extension. Not a perfect solution but it does load pages a bit faster tan safari without the blockers. And yes supposedly they have their own content blocker coming down the pipe, but they were already woring on the browser when Apple annonced the content blockers, so that's what they finished first. I am curious to see how one from them stacks up against the pack, they have made quite the name for themselves in the desktop world.

Crystal runs $0.99, Purify is $3.99, 1Blocker is free (in app purchase $2.99 to unlock pro mode), Blockr is $0.99.

My suggestion is that if you can run the, give them a try and enjoy a faster, cleaner web. My houghts are over time many content will continue to migrate to native apps that aren't blocked and some will incorparate more just part of the page style of ads. But in the meantime, it's a great way to enjoy the web and get rid of some of the more annoying ads. Just remember some of those content publishers depend on the income, so if they aren't absolutely annoying it might also be in your best interest long term to whitelist some of them. The choice is of course yours.




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