Location-Gated Sideloading Rumoured for iOS 17 9to5mac.com

In December, Mark Gurman was first to report the possibility of app sideloading coming in iOS 17, in addition to expanding third-party capabilities for other features:

Currently, third-party web browsers, including ones like Chrome from Alphabet Inc.’s Google, are required to use WebKit, Apple’s Safari browsing engine. Under the plan to meet the new law, Apple is considering removing that mandate.

Apple is also working to open up other features to third-party apps, including more camera technologies and its near-field communications chip — at least in a limited fashion. Currently, only the company’s Wallet app and Apple Pay service can use the NFC chip to enable mobile wallet functionality. Apple has faced pressure to let third-party financial apps have the same capability.

Gurman noted these kinds of changes would only be enabled for European users, setting up an intriguing public relations dilemma. In his newsletter last week, Gurman claimed sideloading is still expected for the next version of iOS; Michael Tsai has a good roundup of related commentary.

A question remains about how Apple may restrict sideloading to only European devices. For many past location-gated features, Apple’s guardrails have been flexible. For example, switching an iPhone’s region to “United States” — in Settings, General, Language & Region — is often enough to enable features like Apple News or Apple Pay Cash. It is not possible complete setup of Apple Pay Cash without U.S. payment information, but it is surfaced merely through this Settings change. Sideloading is tempting for some users; it is not beneficial for Apple. It is obviously reluctant to embrace the changes mandated in the European Union, and it appears it is building a more robust way to ensure it is only active where legally required.

Filipe Espósito, 9to5Mac:

Based on our findings, the new system internally called “countryd” was silently added with iOS 16.2, but is not being actively used for anything so far. It combines multiple data such as current GPS location, country code from the Wi-Fi router, and information obtained from the SIM card to determine the country the user is in.

With all this information combined, it will become harder for users to bypass these restrictions, but at the same time easier for the device to automatically ignore them when you travel to another region. Code seen by 9to5Mac makes it clear that this system is designed to set restrictions determined by government regulators.

If this is effective at preventing non-European users from peering over the garden walls, it seems possible it could more aggressively enforce other geographically gated features. For example, FaceTime is banned in the United Arab Emirates, but changing the device region is a well-known workaround. It is also plausible to me that Apple would only use this new system for E.U.-specific changes. I expect we will find out in a few weeks.

Update: After thinking about this more, I am increasingly worried Apple’s development of the countryd system will compel it to rigorously adhere to the demands of more controlling regimes. If it is as described, all the location-gated features and restrictions which may currently be bypassed by changing the device’s region will be scrutinized by governments which made those demands.