Commentary

Apple's Early Outlook For IAd Not So Bold

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When Apple announced its iAd platform this month, Google pointed out to anyone who would listen that it highlighted how robust competition is in the mobile ad space. The new ad system itself stems from Apple's acquisition of mobile ad network Quattro Wireless in January.

With federal regulators reportedly preparing to challenge Google's proposed $750 million acquisition of AdMob, the search giant seized on the iAd rollout the way the Obama Administration capitalized on insurance premium hikes in California to rescue health care reform. (Whether Google's effort will similarly succeed remains to be seen.)

But at least initially, Apple doesn't appear to have grand ambitions for iAd taking over mobile advertising. During the company's conference call Tuesday, when asked how the financial community should view iAd -- as potential profit center or a break-even business like iTunes and the App Store -- Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer voiced modest expectations for 2010.

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"We are putting our toes in the water, but don't expect much from us this calendar year. We think we will learn a lot and build a foundation for the future," he said.

That didn't sound quite like the sweeping vision Apple CEO Steve Jobs laid out in the April 8 launch of iAd, where he touted the new format as redefining mobile advertising. That doesn't mean Apple couldn't eventually come to dominate in-application advertising, but not in the near future.

At the same time, Google won't be dismayed to read about the latest rumor that Microsoft is in talks to acquire Millennial Media, one of the largest remaining independent mobile ad networks. In short, if another technology Goliath is expanding aggressively into the mobile ad business via acquisition, it could lend further support to Google's argument that the sector has plenty of competition from other big industry players.

So if Microsoft does end up swallowing Millennial, you can be sure Google will be feverishly sending out email messages to journalists and analysts, introducing it as Exhibit B (after Apple's iAd) in making its case that it won't be the 800-pound gorilla of mobile advertising. At least not at this juncture.

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