In Russia, iPhone Apps Install You

In 2019, Russia passed a law mandating that phones and other “smart” devices come preloaded with a host of applications approved by the Russian government. In Russia, the law was known as the “Law Against Apple”. Apple, of course, resisted — they’ve never shipped iOS anywhere in the world with third-party applications pre-installed.1

The law went into effect yesterday. Apple’s apparently-compliant solution is not to pre-install any of the apps, but to offer them for download in the final step of the setup process for a new device. Via MacRumors, Twitter user Khaos Tian posted a screen capture of the new setup process.

First, at the very end of setup, Russian users now see a screen with the title “App Store”, with this description:

In compliance with Russian legal requirements, continue to view available apps to download.

There is only one option: “Continue”.

The next screen looks like a promotional page from the App Store app, with the heading “From the App Store: Russian Apps”, and a list of the dozen-or-so mandated apps, with “Get” buttons next to each of them. Nothing is installed automatically — you need to “Get” each one. There is no “Install All” option. At the bottom of the list is the following text:

In compliance with Russian legal requirements, here are some apps from Russian developers that you may download.

Notably, this second screen has an “X” button in the top right corner that stays in place even as you scroll down the list. Tap that button and you proceed with completing the setup process, with no requirement that you installed any of the suggested apps. Effectively, if you don’t want any of these apps, the new setup process simply requires two additional taps: “Continue” on the first screen and “X” on the second.

From Apple’s perspective, as well as that of Russian iPhone users, this seems like a good solution. Nothing is actually preinstalled. It’s still unclear what Apple would have done if the Russian government had mandated that these apps actually be preinstalled on every new iPhone.

In App Store, Transparency Is for Me, Not Thee

Arek Holko, on Twitter:

Apple leverages transparency when it suits them but doesn’t let the developers do the same.

He links to The Verge’s story today on Apple’s solution to this Russian law, and an August story from The Verge about Apple rejecting an app update from Facebook because it put the following description below an in-app purchase button: “Apple takes 30% of this purchase.” Touché.

It’s impossible to square Apple’s (reasonable) desire to explain that the prompt to suggest installation of these Russian apps is mandated by Russian law with Apple’s refusal to allow developers to explain the App Store rules they are required to comply with. As I’ve written before, it is prima facie wrong that one of the App Store rules is that apps are not allowed to explain the App Store rules to users.

It’s quite a thing that Russia’s “law against Apple” allows for more transparency to users than Apple’s own App Store rules.

  1. Don’t tell me about the YouTube app on the first five versions of iOS — that was an app written and designed by Apple (including the not-branded-like-YouTube-at-all icon), with Google as a data-providing partner, much in the way that Yahoo was the original partner for Weather, and Google was the original data provider for Maps. The difference is that Apple and Google were such cozy corporate friends back then that both companies agreed to have the app be named “YouTube”. ↩︎