The End of the UDID: What You Should Do About It

Last week, Apple announced that starting May 1, the App Store will no longer accept new apps or app updates that access UDIDs and that advertisers should use the Advertising Identifier instead. The announcement is concise and straightforward:

This is the final chapter in an ongoing transition away from UDIDs, and app marketers who have been following best-practice guidelines should be able to navigate the change without too much disruption.

No surprise

The announcement by Apple wasn’t a complete surprise: during the iOS 5 Beta 6 in August 2011, they indicated that usage of the unique device identifier (UDID) for ad tracking wasn’t going to be around forever. Its replacement is the newer Advertising Identifier, which was introduced in iOS 6 and is often referred to as the Identifier for Advertisers or IDFA. Unlike UDIDs, it was designed for advertising use from the start. It gives users greater ability to control what publishers and advertisers know about their app use, and avoids many of the privacy concerns that hampered the UDID.

Welcome clarity

For some app developers and ad networks, the shift may create some short-term headaches as they scramble to hit the May 1st deadline. However, for most of the industry the announcement provides welcome clarity on App Store policy, eliminating confusion about which Apple ID to use for tracking advertising results.

In my view, this policy shift by Apple will pave the way for the industry to coalesce around the Advertising Identifier as the industry tracking standard for iOS. Given the strategic nature of the Apple App Store - 20 billion downloads in 2012 alone and over 800,000 apps - the shift to the Advertising Identifier is likely to occur rapidly.

Advertisers may also face inventory volume challenges as the transition takes place: until ad networks, publishers, and advertisers have all implemented support for the new system, some traffic won’t be accessible through the Advertising Identifier. It’s worth noting that digital fingerprinting provides a useful way to bridge this gap, if needed.

Get your updates in

Our recommendation for any developers using the UDID is to concentrate on getting a minimally viable update prepared and submitted for approval as soon as you can - one that includes as many tracking technologies as possible. You do not need to remove UDID support immediately -- Apple doesn’t say they’ll be removing apps that use it from the store, just that they won’t be approving any more.

At the bare minimum, your next app update should include both UDID and the Advertising Identifier, backed by a plan to incorporate additional technologies as soon as you can. In a perfect world you should incorporate all the major tracking options now, as well as make any needed updates to support the other part of Apple’s announcement: the requirement that all apps support the Retina display and the 4-inch display on the iPhone 5.

Smooth transition

Getting this update in before the 5/1 deadline (preferably at least 2-3 weeks before) will buy you the time to make more comprehensive changes without a looming deadline, as well as maintaining your access to as many advertising opportunities as possible.

Fiksu offers the first and only platform in the industry that supports the Advertising Identifier, UDID, digital fingerprinting, HTML5 cookies, the Facebook Identifier, and MAC address tracking, along with the ability to turn any of those methods off remotely - without re-submitting to the App Store. This means that not only do we provide the traffic volume our clients demand and extremely accurate, in-depth tracking and reporting - we also let our clients stay on top of industry changes like this one.

Finally, Fiksu’s Glenn Kiladis, VP and GM of FreeMyApps, will be speaking on the state of ad tracking at GDC later this week. If you’re at the show, be sure to check out How Mobile Ad Tracking Impacts App Marketing Results at 12:30 on Wednesday, in room 302, South Hall.

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