• Glance puts a stream of news, videos, games… and ads on your phone’s Lock Screen. 
  • It will come pre-installed on Android phones in the US as early as next month.
  • The lock-screen may be the last unexploited territory on our phones.

Many smartphones with ads displayed on the screen.

Glance, a tech company based in India, will soon be putting ads on your Android lock screens, aided and abetted by your friendly wireless carriers. 

Glance is a $2 billion advertising technology (adtech) company backed by Google and other investors. It serves various kinds of media to the home screens of participating handsets, and may actually be pretty compelling for some people. Glance puts a feed of news, quizzes, photos, videos, and so on, right onto your lock screen.

“The potential of lock screen adverts is appealing to advertisers. Because lock screens are seen hundreds of times a day and are devoid of visual noise, they are set to be high-impact and high-engagement ad placements if done well, which Glance appears to be willing to do,” financial analyst Candice Moses told Lifewire via email. “Opening up additional channels to connect people with relevant material may have a big impact on marketers, as long as it’s relevant and easy to use.”

Content Grazing

If you've ever watched people using their phones on public transport or while waiting in line, you'll be familiar with the constant swiping to cycle through messages, Snapchat, TikTok, etc. If you haven't ever watched other people do this, it's probably because you're doing it yourself. 

Viewed like this, Glance is already a great idea. Why unlock your phone to check your various apps and feeds if you can—yes—just glance at its Lock Screen for the same thing? You are, after all, just "consuming content," an ugly marketing term that is utterly accurate in this case. And part of that stream of content will—inevitably—be ads. 

Glance is already preinstalled on many Android handsets in India and Asia and runs on around 400 million smartphones. According to Manish Singh at TechCrunch, Glance is now working with US carriers and could come preinstalled on phones as soon as next month. One can imagine that the carriers are eager to get in on this deal. It seems likely that there will either be a revenue split where carriers get a cut of the ad money or a straight-up fee to preinstall Glance on phones. 

The lock screen has, until now, been a peaceful place. It started with a clock, then gained the various passcode-entry methods, let people show hideous photos of their children, added icons for cameras and flashlights, notifications, and so on. But compared to what lies behind the curtain, it was relatively fallow. In 2022, that's changing. 

In the next version of its iPhone operating system, iOS 16, which will go public this fall, Apple has completely revamped its Home Screen. It will feature widgets, kind of like the complications that can be set to appear on the Apple Watch face, and it will be completely customizable, from photos to fonts and colors. Credible rumors also say that the next iPhone Pro will get an always-on screen for showing these complications. 

Meanwhile, Android phones have long shown varying amounts of information on their always-on lock screens. 

Will We Tolerate Home Screen Ads?

Can lock-screen ads work in the US? It depends. Some people are happy to browse the web without ad-blockers or tracker-blockers enabled. Others play ad-supported games and don't seem to get annoyed by them. While still others would rather pay any amount than let a single advertisement ruin their experience.

Smartphones showing Glance ads on the lock screen.

"Glance has mostly functioned in Asia, where consumer tolerance for viewing an advertisement on a lock screen is significantly higher," says Moses. "Lock screen advertising is new in the US market. Therefore user tolerance may be an issue."

And some ads are pretty good. Instagram is stuffed full of them, and yet it also, in this writer's experience, shows some of the least-annoying ads around. 

“Companies with truly creative and fun advertising would likely be the only welcome entrants to this protected smartphone real estate. But these are in the minority, and most brands would really need to test this before rolling it out for their ad spend,” chief marketing officer Jerry Han told Lifewire via email. 

If Glance-equipped phones are offered cheaper than the same model without ads, then maybe many folks will opt for the ad-supported option, similar to Amazon's ad-subsidized Kindles. And who knows, perhaps Glance will become a popular network, and people will enjoy its news, games, videos, and so on, along with its ads. In that case, people might prefer to buy a Glance-equipped phone or to install Glance on their current phone. And why not? We already pay for TV with ads. Why not this?