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The History of Apple’s SKAdNetwork (SKAN)

By September 19, 2023Education 6 Min Read

Learn how SKAN evolved and where it’s heading

Once long ago, in the year 2018, Apple Inc., an American multinational technology company, introduced SKAdNetwork, short for “StoreKit Ad Network”, also commonly referred to as SKAN. 

SKAN is a framework that revolutionized mobile advertising attribution and privacy in the digital marketing landscape. Introduced with iOS 11.3, SKAN emerged as a response to growing concerns over user privacy and the need for more privacy-centric advertising practices. 

With the increasing adoption of mobile apps and the tracking capabilities of various advertising networks, users were becoming increasingly wary of their data being collected and shared without their knowledge. SKAN sought to address these concerns by providing a privacy-preserving way for app developers and advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their ad campaigns without compromising user data. By leveraging SKAN, developers can obtain aggregated performance data while preserving user anonymity, thus laying the foundation for a more secure and privacy-respecting mobile advertising ecosystem.

In this blog, we will expand on the history of SKAN and where this technology is headed.

2018 | iOS 11.3 SKAN quietly introduced by Apple Adoption is essentially non-existent and SKAN ONLY supports install reporting.
2020 | iOS 14 Apple unveils iOS 14, the ATT framework, and SKAN 2 at WWDC 2020 The mobile marketing ecosystem takes notice of SKAN in the shadow of the ATT framework, which upends IDFA-based measurement by placing it behind an app-level opt-in.
For the first time, Apple publicly introduces SKAN in its v2 state with a significant update that provides for post-install insights via the Conversion Value. Marketers will now have a metric beyond the install to discern some indicator of user quality. 
MMPs implement SKAN support to help advertisers simplify adoption for their iOS apps.
2021 | iOS 14.5 Apple’s ATT framework becomes required on April 26th, 2021 with the release of iOS 14.5 Overnight, iOS marketing is changed as the ATT framework goes into full effect and availability of the IDFA plummets. With Apple’s User Privacy & Data Use policy clarifying that attribution by fingerprinting cannot be used as a fallback mechanism for IDFA opt-out, SKAN quickly becomes a go-to tool for deterministic measurement on paid media. The industry begins ramping up adoption, with some partners better prepared than others.
2021 | iOS 15 At WWDC 2021, Apple unveils SKAN 3 with iOS 15 Compared to the cataclysmic impact of the announcements made at WWDC 2020, WWDC 2021 was far less earth shattering, with Apple introducing iterative updates for SKAN in the form of influencer reporting and adding the ability for advertisers to receive copies of winning postbacks, which had been delivered solely to ad networks. 
2022 | iOS 16 At WWDC 2022, Apple unveils SKAN 4 with iOS 16 SKAN gets its biggest makeover yet with a plethora of new functionality, including: 

  • Web-to-app campaign support
  • Multiple conversion postbacks
  • Hierarchical IDs
  • And more
2022 | iOS 16.1 SKAN 4 is released with iOS 16.1 in October 2022 SKAN 4 goes live, but the industry will take time to implement all of its new capabilities, particularly given the efforts spent building tools and optimization algorithms that are tuned to the functions of v2-3.
2023 | iOS 17 At WWDC 2023, Apple unveils SKAN 5 for iOS 17 SKAN 5 will introduce support for re-engagement for the first time.

What will the future hold for SKAN? It’s hard to say, but SKAN is likely to be influenced by ongoing changes in the digital advertising landscape, evolving privacy regulations, and user preferences. Apple will probably continue to iterate on its privacy-focused approach, and they will continue to refine SKAN or introduce new features in response to industry developments.

So many successive SKAN releases have caused stress and confusion for advertisers, but the future could be looking up as Apple irons out the complexities and nuances of their technology. If you’re looking for SKAN solutions to measure SKAN campaigns across channel partners, check out Kochava SKAdNetwork Solutions page.

If you’re hoping to gain a more holistic understanding of SKAN and how it works, download The Ultimate Marketer’s Guide to SKAdNetwork (SKAN) for free.