It is as certain as the flooding of streets that follows a drizzle in an Indian metro – any discussion involving Xiaomi in recent times inevitably attracts the comment: “But what about the ads in MIUI?” The reference being to ads that appear in a number of phones running Xiaomi’s MIUI interface. Although the occurrence of ads in Redmi devices is nothing new, these suddenly made headlines in the latter half of 2018, and have since been adopted by critics as a stick to beat the company at every occasion. Be it the launch of a new device or even a corporate announcement, there is an inevitable query about when ads will be removed from Xiaomi phones. In fact, things have reached such a pass that there are many who would have us believe that it is the presence of ads that allows Xiaomi to place such affordable price tags on its devices – something that the company vehemently denies.
Given the sheer vehemence of some reactions over these ads – almost every tech site (us included) has come out with guides telling people how to disable these ads – you would have expected a massive public backlash towards Xiaomi’s phones. Well, the market figures do not seem to bear that out – almost a year after the news of ads in Xiaomi phones made headlines, the company continues to be numero uno in the Indian smartphone market. Interestingly, that has not stopped the tech media from complaining about them, though.
All of which does beg the question: are these ads as much an issue to the general consumer as some of us (yours truly included) make them out to be?
The answer, which may shock a few people, might be: well, perhaps not.
For, to be brutally honest, ads have become so much a part of our digital existence, that we are not too sure how many consumers notice their presence or indeed, appreciate their absence. Indeed, some of the ones we talked to, did not even know that they existed and many of those who knew they did, were not too troubled by them. The reason for this acceptance can be tracked to the fact that there are a number of applications that end up parking ads on your device. And many of these are extremely popular – perhaps the most notable is ShareIT, which can inundate your phone with ads. There are others that have ad components too – ads that often extend beyond the apps they came with and end up popping up all over your phone.
Call them a blessing or a curse, but the freemium app model has made a large segment of mobile users almost immune to the presence of ads. Indeed, many see them as a necessary evil, if one has to get content at a lower cost or free of cost. Many people play games and put up with videos that play in the middle of them, or use applications that have ads running in them on part of the app’s UI, and while these might irritate tech purists, they are pretty much “business as usual” for most mobile users, a bit like the ads one has to see in the middle of TV shows and live telecasts.
Users have got used to even seeing ads on their social networks, be it Instagram or Facebook, and to being spammed by marketing mails on their mail IDs. Yes, there are ways to turn off these ads. But then, rare indeed is the user who pays much attention to terms and conditions while installing an application. The tendency, if anything, is to simply keep hitting OK to get to using the app or playing the game as soon as possible. A friend of ours even thought that his Pixel came with ads because notifications from ad-supported apps were popping up in the notifications bar.
There is no denying that the presence of ads inhibits the user experience, be it of an app, game or the phone itself. But thanks to the level of user tolerance and the acceptance of ads as part of the user experience, most mainstream users do not really make a massive issue over the presence of ads. And this is not an Indian phenomenon – Amazon still sells ad-supported Kindles (“Kindle with special offers”) at slightly lower prices than the ad-free ones, without too much opposition. And to be fair, we have seen ads in other phones as well, including those from Xiaomi’s main rival, Samsung. For whatever reason, they never made as much news as Xiaomi’s did, but that is perhaps another story.
To return to the main question: should the presence of ads on a phone UI be an issue?
In a perfect world, definitely. Just like ads in any other medium, they are an intrusion, and get in the way of the core experience. But just like other media, they also tend to subsidise the price paid by the consumer. Are they necessary on phones? Not knowing the extent to which they subsidise phone costs, we cannot really say. Are users bothered by them? Well, market statistics would indicate that ads oh phones are not as big an issue as some of us consider them to be.
But we do think that whenever possible, the user should be spared their intrusion or at least made aware of their existence.
For all the criticism it has received. Xiaomi is the only brand that has talked about ads in its interface most openly and even pointed out ways to disable them. Other brands could borrow a leaf from its book in this regard. Users might not object to ads as vehemently as purists do, but it is only fair that they now what they are getting on their phones.