No, third-party iPhone app stores won’t work outside Europe – even with a VPN

After many years of Apple keeping its ecosystem firmly locked down, cracks have started to appear in its famous walled garden, with the newly released iOS 17.4 allowing third-party app stores for the first time. However, access to these is only available to users within the European Union (EU) – and don’t expect to be able to get around the restriction using a VPN.

As spotted by 9to5Mac, Apple has uploaded a new support document that outlines how it will make sure that anyone who wants to access a third-party app store is physically located inside the EU.

First, you must have an Apple ID that's set to an EU member state. As well as that, there’s a geolocation check to ensure that you're physically located in one of those countries. Apple says it doesn’t collect your actual location, only an indicator of whether you're eligible to use third-party app stores or not.

Interestingly, the geolocation aspect of Apple’s restrictions implies that even the best VPN services won’t be able to bypass them. That’s because a VPN can change your IP address to fool a server into believing that you're located in a different country, but a geolocation check happens on the device itself (usually using GPS), and therefore can't be spoofed in the same way.

Apple might use other ways to check your location, and it already has a system in place that does just this. Also as found by 9to5Mac, this system looks up things like your rough location (on a nation level, not your exact location), your Apple ID billing address, the region you are using in the Settings app, and the type of device you’re using.

The app stores are coming

The App Store on a phone screen

(Image credit: Shutterstock / BigTunaOnline)

Apple says that you will be able to access alternative app stores if you leave the EU for a brief “grace period,” but warns that if you’re “gone for too long, you’ll lose access to some features, including installing new alternative app marketplaces.” Apps you’ve installed will still work, but you won’t be able to update them. The company hasn’t said how long the grace period is.

Alternative app stores have only just been permitted, but one is already available to download. Called the Mobivention App Marketplace, this store is aimed at corporate customers who want a outlet for distributing their own business-focused apps. Other providers, like MacPaw, Epic Games and AltStore, have said they’ll be launching their own app stores soon.

Apple didn’t give a reason for why it's going so far to ensure that only EU citizens can access third-party app stores, but one reason could be to clamp down on the idea spreading to users in other nations. For one thing, Apple has repeatedly said that third-party app stores to which access is being enforced by the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) could be unsafe.

As well as that, they also represent a potential threat to Apple’s revenues – just one look at Apple’s onerous fees for developers who use third-party app stores shows you how worried Apple must be. While the company is being forced to open up in the EU, no other jurisdiction has followed suit, so it seems likely that Apple wants to contain the spread of alternative app stores as much as it can.

If you’re located inside the EU, you’ll be able to try out these new app stores pretty much straight away. If you’re not, all you can do is wait to see if Apple is forced to open up elsewhere.

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Gmail will no longer harass you with notifications outside working hours

Gmail is easily among the best email services; it offers safe, reliable, and secure email from one of the internet's largest companies.

But anyone who uses Gmail for work, through Google Workspace, knows the pain of out-of-hours emails from your boss that flash up on the screen and ruin your zen. 

Google is listening, though, and recently announced an update for Gmail that works with Apple's new Focus mode for iOS, one of the best features for getting digital peace and quiet. 

The idea is kind of like notification profiles on Android; you can set specific notifications, apps, and services to be silent in different times of the day, such as when you're at home. 

Gmail can now work with these profiles – either automatically generated by Apple or customized by the user – to make sure that you get the exact notifications you want. Aimless emails? Gone. Important, critical updates? Those get through. 

“You can now specify which Google Chat and Gmail contacts you still want notifications from when your iOS device is in Focus mode,” explained Google. “This is useful in situations where you need to limit screen time, but don’t want to miss an important message when other notifications are silenced.” 

The importance of digital peace 

After the pandemic forced everyone to work from home, or at least partially work from home, getting some digital peace became very important. 

When there is no obvious boundary between the office and home environment, making sure that notifications don't get through during “you” time is vital. 

Managing notifications, especially on iOS before the latest update, was a bit of a pain. You either had to silence them all or dive into Settings every single time. 

Apple made the process a lot easier with iOS 15 and we really recommend setting up some different Focus profiles to get the ball rolling, especially if you don't have a work phone that can just be switched off. 

The set-up can be a bit of a faff, but once you get past that it's really simple – and perfect for keeping digital peace of mind without missing important updates. 

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