Starting April 1st, users setting up a new iPhone in Russia will see a screen that allows them to automatically install apps that are officially sanctioned by the Russian government, in compliance with Russian law (via Engadget).
The law in question was passed back in 2019, and requires smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and smart TVs sold in Russia to come pre-installed with specific apps made by Russian companies by April 1st, according to Russian news site Vedomosti. (The law was originally set to go into effect in July 2020, but was pushed back to April 2021). Vedomosti also says that apps won’t be installed if users don’t want them. Apple confirmed to The Verge that it will comply with the law by giving the users the option to install the apps when activating the phone.
Which apps are specifically going to be offered to users remains unclear, though Vedomosti cites a government services app, and apps from Russian companies including Yandex, Mail.ru, and Kaspersky Lab. The government seems to be aware that it might be problematic to favor specific apps, and is planning to expand its list over time: “The Ministry is not at all interested in seeing popular apps included in the mandatory pre-installation list take dominant positions. If alternatives emerge on the market, prove interesting to users and gain popularity quickly, they will be included in this selection and also offered for pre-installation,” a Russian official told Vedomosti.
Apple has historically kept tight control over the iPhone’s setup process, and that appears to now be changing, if only in one market. While Apple has previously made changes to stay on the side of local laws — it’s changed maps, blocked pride watch faces in Russia, and now stores iCloud data on state-run servers in China — this may be one of the more dramatic changes, as it affects a screen that every user will see when they set up their iPhone.
Apple has slowly been allowing users to change how iOS works out of the box, with the ability to change some default apps in iOS 14, but now it’s given a small amount of control over the setup process to the Russian government, too. As the company faces legal challenges from the EU and US over antitrust, and over giving its competitors a level playing field, we may see Apple having to give over some more control to governments if it wants to sell its phones to their citizens — though it probably won’t be compelled to ask users if they want to install Spotify at setup. Probably.