Apple has struck another hard blow to Iranians by blocking locally-made applications from its system with a change of rules, ICTNA has reported.
The California-based technology behemoth does not have a presence in Iran due to US sanctions, but its products including iPhones remain much sought-after devices in the country, meaning several thousand Iranian app developers that produce software in Persian contribute to a local Apple ecosystem.
Iranian media and users alike report that Apple has revoked "enterprise certificates" from Iranian apps. That has resulted in iPhone users being unable to access locally-made applications including popular apps providing services such as ride-hailing and banking.
This is not the first time that Iranian Apple users have been hit hard. In 2018, Iranian apps were quietly removed from the Apple iOS store. Iranians were able to sidestep that removal by loading applications onto their phones via technician mode. It appears that option may no longer be available because of the latest block put in place by Apple.
Given that Apple does not have a presence in Iran, its phones and computers are imported via third-party dealers from countries like the United Arab Emirates, China and Iraq. Local companies offer limited warranties, but they are not affiliated with the US firm and users have no real recourse if something goes wrong.
Wary of the Trump administration’s sanctions regime directed at Iran, American tech companies err on the side of caution when interpreting new US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) rules on dealing with Iran.
Middle-class status symbol
Apple is a brand which the middle class in Iran use as a status symbol. However, in recent years even those who live in affluent north Tehran have been forced to reconsider their choices because prices continue to climb driven by the severe devaluation of the Iranian rial (IRR) caused by the sanctions.
According to local price comparison websites, Apple’s iPhone X 256GB now retails for IRR160mn (€1,097 at the free market rate), whereas the average monthly salary in 2018, according to Asr Iran, was IRR29.4mn (€199), some five times less than the price of the latest product.
Apple has previously said it was "continuously evaluating cases of misuse [of enterprise certificates] and [was] prepared to take immediate action," a spokesperson for the firm said.
The company last year accounted for an estimated 11% share of Iran’s technology market, according to the telecoms ministry.
Google’s mobile operating system Android is run on 89% of smartphones in Iran. Google allows Android developers to publish apps in Iran as long as they do not relate to purchases. The American company has not to date followed Apple’s action against Iranian apps by targeting products placed in its Google Play store. Android is also catered for by local store Café Bazaar, a Persian-language app store.
There are more than 60mn smartphones currently in use in Iran, a country of around 81mn people. Nearly 80mn SIM cards are active in the country.
“Apple is seemingly not prohibited”
“Despite broad prohibitions, according to General License D-1 issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US Treasury Department’s financial intelligence department, there are services that American firms are not barred from offering to Iranian companies and individuals,” deputy ICT minister Amir Nezami wrote on March 3 in the Financial Tribune.
He went on to add: “Apple is seemingly not prohibited from distributing software products developed by Iranians. However, to curb the risk of facing possible penalties, Apple decided to impose an outright ban against Iranian developers.”
Nezami said on his Twitter account: “With regard to Apple's restraints, further investigations show that a reporter from one of the anti-Iranian networks has provided a list of Iranian apps to restrict and provided Apple with it."
The deputy minister was referring to the British-based Manoto (“Me and you”) channel operated by Marjan Television Network, which is active in promoting anti-Islamic Republic content beamed into Iran via satellite and over the internet.
Mohammad Jafar Nanakar, director general of the Information Technology Organization, added that Apple probably did not have a clear understanding of the effect the system-wide block on enterprise certificates would create.
The minister added that developers got around software blocks by using “internal” or enterprise methods of uploading software to phones, saying: “Apparently, a list of this software has been provided by some anti-Iranian people and is available to Apple. After identifying these programs, their service has been discontinued.”
Nanakar went on to add that if the Information Technology Organization did not find a solution to the issue in the short term, the technology organisation would move ahead with a legal challenge in the international courts against Apple.
The official added that people were free to choose their phone model, saying: "If a country like America bans our product and does not allow us to use it, it's best to boycott them."