Apple to force ads on you? Pay attention, there'll be a test

Apple has filed a patent for a technology that could not only stop you skipping the advert, but also test you to see if you're paying attention. Well, are you?

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Having already annoyed every sentient being on the planet with its adverts, Apple obviously figures there's no fixing things and it might as well go for broke. Steve Jobs' name is right at the top of a patent application for adverts with an 'enforcement routine', which tests you to see if you're paying attention to the ad -- and woe betide you if you're not.

When the advert starts playing, the device or application freezes. To return to working order, the user must perform a task when prompted. This could be as simple as clicking OK a couple of times until the ad is finished, then going merrily about your business. Or it could mean answering a question about the advert, to ensure you were concentrating.

Fail once and the next task will be "progressively more aggressive" -- a smaller OK box to spot, or a man in skinny jeans and designer glasses poking you with an iPhone and questioning how someone like you could even afford an Apple product in the first place. Possibly. There's even a music-player version, inserting adverts, Spotify-style, into your listening until you can't stand it no mores, and ante up for a premium version.

Unskippable adverts are a chore, sure. Online advertising is like democracy: the worst way of doing things, except for all the other ways we've tried. If we don't want to pony up cash to read online news, adverts are the price to pay. As consumers, we don't begrudge you an adblocker, we get just as annoyed as you when we can't skip the anti-piracy ad at the start of a DVD, and those Orange cinema ads drive us nuts.

From a business perspective, however, consumers ignoring adverts is bad news. Our financial-minded colleagues over at BNET think enforcement routines may not actually be such a bad idea. Have your say in the comments.

But of all people, why did it have to be Apple? The New York Times spotted the patent, and was just as surprised as us. Apple is all about clean lines, utopian vision, unsullied design. Apple's cachet comes from the fact that iMacs and iPhones and OS X are already premium products, of which the cruddy hobbled cheap versions are made by -- well, we won't single anybody out, but we're talking about everybody else. We'd expect this from Bill, but not you, Steve. Not you.