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Ex-Apple 'Pink' engineer takes fight to Google

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'Is Google a friend or a foe?'

de Silva also argues that many publishers are wary of using Google for political, economic, and maybe even emotional reasons. "There are some growing concerns around the world [among publishers] over 'Is Google a friend or a foe?'," he says.

Google didn't address this argument directly. But it did point out that over 50,000 publishers are using the AdMob network, including Angry Birds and Best, Cool & Fun Games. "We are helping mobile developers monetize their apps," the company spokesman says. "Hundreds of developers in the AdMob network are on track to earn more than $100,000 annually."

Despite a certain amount of, well. disagreement between the two companies, their platforms do indeed work in tandem. The AdMob SDK is compatible with AdMarvel, just as it is with other ad exchanges and mediators. Like Apple, de Silva says, Google wants to reach the big-name publishers who use AdMarvel. And according to de Silva, AdMarvel is able to pull ads from DoubleClick for placement on mobile devices.

AdMarvel's relationship to Opera is less complicated. Opera's Mini browser is now has over 76 million users across the globe, and when those users access the web, all their traffic is routed through Opera proxy servers. Meant for low-bandwidth connections, Opera Mini used those proxy servers to compress webpages before they're sent down to the phone. But those servers also let AdMarvel tailor the ads that it serves onto Opera Mini devices.

"We have some unique intelligence from the Opera Mini servers about the contextual information of an ad serve," de Silva says. "What we can do better inside of Mini rather than a generic browser like [the ones on iPhones and Android devices] is that we can leverage that contextual information to deliver a more-relevant ad. We also have a more-clear view into the device capabilities." This includes the dimensions of a device and its physical orientation.

Whereas Apple and Google are focused on delivering ads to smartphones and tablets, AdMarvel can also serve ads onto millions of feature phones across the globe. "We see a largely untapped market in the developing world," de Silva says. "We're very present in developed markets, but we also see this huge potential in the rest of the world, giving them a scalable infrastructure they can play into."

Currently, the AdMarvel platform lets publishers target Opera Mini ads based on the time of day, geography, and device specs, including software as well as hardware. But they plan to provide even finer targeting, using things such as telemetry and GPS data.

Yes, Google and Apple are exploring such ad targeting. And Google, if not Apple, could transform its ad-network offering into more of an ad-exchange setup. But Google doesn't have Opera Mini. "Google and Apple, with their ad inventory, are very much focused on developed market – the US, the UK, Japan, the Nordics – where there's more concentrated spending," de Silva says. "But we think there's a differential opportunity of doing this across other markets. If you at the [Opera Mini] traffic we see, it's a pyramid that tends to be broadest in the developing world."

But even in places like the US and the UK, he says, Opera and AdMarvel have a certain advantage because they're, well, not Google and Apple. He talks about those "competitive frictions" between Google and publishers, but also about the need to provide competing options on iOS devices. "Apple has very admirably built a closed ecosystems, and services that ecosystem very well," he says. "We think there's an opportunity to provide choice, even within that ecosystem."

When we asked whether publishers are wary of Apple is the same way they're wary of Google, pointing to the 30 per cent cut Jobs and company are now taking from subscription apps, de Silva indicates that they are – though he's careful to say that he's voicing his own personal opinions. "At Apple, there is this overwhelming belief that what they do is in the best interests of consumers and the broader ecosystem that they power. But the [30 per cent cut] kinda flies in the face of the economics of the publisher," he says. "Apple is starting to look like an operator, demanding the kind of obtuse economics that operators demanded."

de Silva knows Cupertino well. He spent seven years at Apple in the late 80s and 90s, serving as the graphics-system architect for the ill-fated next-generation Mac OS known only as "Pink".

He believes that Apple will eventually change its policy on subscription apps. But either way, he argues that Opera and AdMarvel have enough leverage to compete with the giants of the mobile ad world. "There is a unique opportunity for AdMarvel," he says, "to assert ourselves as a nonaligned technology provider and service provider that doesn't have a competing agenda to the publisher." ®

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