Apple says it has fixed the SKAdNetwork bug in iOS 16.6 (but there’s still a few big problems)

By John Koetsier August 4, 2023

We just broke the news about a SKAN 4 CV reset bug on the Singular blog 2 days ago, on August 2. Today Apple’s system status page says there was an SKAdNetwork bug that was just resolved yesterday, on August 3 at midnight.

SKAdNetwork bug

One challenge: Apple clearly has a time machine, because iOS 16.6 was released 10 days ago, on July 24.

(My best guess on that interesting timeline: Apple typically slow-rolls releases to see if anything blows up or there are any major issues. Then, after a week or two, Apple starts increasing release volume. Likely what happened here is that Apple was still in the initial stages of the roll-out when they learned about the SKAdNetwork bug, paused it, fixed this very minor issue, and will be continuing the 16.6 launch.)

The real SKAdNetwork bug fix challenge: timing

The real problem here though is timing and iOS versions.

As you can clearly see on Statcounter’s global stats for iOS versions, the current big boy of iOS versions is 16.5 at about 55% share. After that you have “other” around 16%, 16.3 at 8%, and so on.

iOS versions

In one sense, the only part of the chart that matters for our purposes is the far right where we see current iOS version share: July. In another sense, the months from April to July are really important, because you can see the growth of iOS 16.5 over 4 months:

  • April: .33%
  • May: 2.72%
  • June: 43.17%
  • July: 54.62%

April and May are slow-roll launches where Apple is monitoring bugs and issues. In June the spigots open up, and iPhone users flood onto the new operating system. In July, the early adopter crowd that checks the Automatically Update Me box starts to run out of steam, and the pace of upgrades slows. The numbers will continue to grow over the next few months, but at a much reduced rate.

That’s a problem for the mobile attribution space.

iOS 16.6 might have the updated code that fixes the SKAdNetwork bug: great. But it won’t get into all devices instantly. In fact, it could take months. Apple absolutely has the ability to open the floodgates wider and faster — they clearly did for iOS 15.6, which breached 50% in just a month — but will they for an issue that approximately zero of their end users will ever know or care about?

We’ll see.

Problem #2 is all the other iOS versions.

In many cases you have Apple users who are on older devices, and they’ve maxed out the OS upgrade cycle for their hardware. That often means that only critical releases make it out to that crowd. That group is probably around 30% of all iPhone owners, as you can see by the high-water mark of iOS 15.5 at near 70% in July 2022.

True, this is less of an issue than it might seem, however, because a big chunk of the cohort of people with older phones is well … old people. They don’t install a ton of apps, and they’re not a big user acquisition target. It is important to remember, however, that very young people and teens often get hand-me-down devices, and they’ve an important early-adopter market.

So where do we stand with SKAN 4?

When it’s all said and done, a few things are clear:

  1. The bug is fixed: this is good
  2. The fix is going to take some time to get out to the majority of the market … and that “some time” could easily be 3 months
  3. Part of the market may NEVER get the fix
  4. Ad networks that rolled out SKAN 4 support and kicked off the SKAN 4 inflection point I wrote about just 10 days ago are being forced to revert back to SKAN 3 (so much for my glorious inflection point)
  5. Now they’ll have to wait 30 to 120 days and gauge iOS upgrade cycles before being able to re-release SKAN 4 support
  6. Ad networks that haven’t rolled out SKAN 4 support can sit back, chuckle, be happy that they were late, and continue finalizing their SKAN 4 optimization code at their leisure

We have all said it many times: what a wonderful crazy ever-changing world of mobile marketing and adtech we live in. There is always something to keep you on your toes!

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