Apple just killed (some) app uninstall tracking in iOS 15

By John Koetsier July 28, 2021

Uninstall tracking has been valuable for mobile app developers and marketers for years. Knowing that someone has uninstalled your app — and having some idea of when — can give you clues on what to improve in the future. And maybe, insight on changes that you’ve made that people don’t like.

Some of that is going away soon in iOS 15.

Apple just made an update to iOS 15 beta 4 that will disallow the mechanism most mobile growth services use to measure uninstalls: background pushes.

Background push notifications with empty payloads never show up on a user’s device if your app is still present and installed, but they do verify the app’s installed status via the Apple Push Notification Service. Notifications on iOS don’t go directly from your servers to a user’s device: they go to a centralized Apple service and are then distributed to the device. That’s both a security and a usability feature for iOS, so iPhone and iPad owners don’t get blitzed with messages, and so that messages can be delivered to offline devices when they come back online. The Android equivalent is Google Cloud Messaging.

But Apple’s just made a privacy change: background pushes will only be delivered if the app has been used in the foreground in the past few weeks.

apple kills iOS 15 uninstall tracking

That will kill some uninstall tracking. It won’t kill all uninstall tracking.

If someone hasn’t used your app for an unspecified number of weeks, then uninstalls it, you won’t know that exact time. And, frankly, if your app is just dormant on a device and has not been used in weeks, an empty push will not work: you’ll have to send an actual notification. On the other hand, if someone is using your app, has a strong reaction to something in or about your app, and immediately deletes it, you still have a chance to catch that uninstall, record it, and (hopefully) learn from it.

Since most uninstalls happen very soon after an app is installed, often after the first use, this may not be a huge deal. And since you can still get data for the long-term user who has a this-app-sucks-I’m-deleting-it moment, you’ve still got access to perhaps the most important uninstall measurement you need.

In addition, whether someone’s fully uninstalled your app or is just completely not using it — often to the point where Apple’s relatively recent Offload Unused Apps feature, which auto-deletes unused apps, deletes your app — does it really matter?


offload unused apps iOS iPhone


The key point is: they’re not using your app. Sure, it’s easier to revive a lapsed user who still has your app installed, but how often does that happen to the point where they become engaged, retained, profitable users?

And one other thought: the absence of a response is kind of a response, isn’t it?

So if you sent a payloadless notification via Apple Push Notification Service and don’t get a response, that tells you something. It may not tell you that your app is completely uninstalled, but it certainly tells you very clearly that you have a lapsed user who has not even opened your app for weeks. While for some apps in some verticals, that’s fine (think a transit app for a vacationer who always goes to the south of France, and needs the train scheduling app only for one month every year), for most apps, that’s not a great indicator.

Which means mobile marketers can probably simply redefine what uninstall tracking is, and carry on.

And, of course, on Android, nothing has changed.

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