In an effort to be at the forefront of technological innovation, every year Apple introduces new hardware. and Software. It does this while looking to maintain its reputation for developing incredibly secure devices with features like Private Relay.
Introduced in 2021, it would be forgiven to assume this is Apple’s own version of a VPN. However, this is not really the case, with several key limitations that make the need for a third-party VPN for iPhone still necessary to optimize your device.
Read on as we explain why Private Relay is not a built-in VPN for your iPhone, the differences between the two, and which VPN is the best for the job to protect your Apple smartphone.
Private Relay vs VPN: How Do They Differ?
The first thing to note is that just because you have an iPhone doesn’t mean you automatically get the Private Relay feature. It comes with iCloud+ accounts – that’s anyone paying for additional cloud storage. In this sense, however, it is not an ‘integrated’ service.
Second, Private Relay is not a VPN, although it does offer some security and privacy advantages – they are nowhere near as extensive as a full VPN.
Capable of hiding a user’s IP address, Private Relay only secures traffic with Apple’s own browser, Safari, and applications with insecure connections (HTTP as opposed to HTTPS). Anyone who chooses to use Chrome or another browser on an iPhone will not be protected.
While Private Relay automatically chooses two random servers to connect to and prevents any digital paths from linking to you and your device, it loses the ability to select a specific country, such as a VPN.
Geo-spoofing allows you to access restricted online content and is one of the main reasons why (aside from improved security) you want a VPN for your iPhone.
What can an iPhone VPN do?
Each VPN provider has their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, but all the top services we recommend for the iPhone offer far more benefits than the Private Relay feature. For example, a good VPN:
- Hide your IP address
- Encrypts inbound and outbound traffic
- It has additional features to enhance security and privacy such as NordVPN’s double VPN
- Prevents your ISP’s bandwidth throttling
- Unblock geo-restricted online content
- Get US Netflix so you can watch US exclusives like 30 Rock
- On another continent? Watch UK TV abroad or stream other region-specific content wherever you are
Unlike Private Relay, a VPN will also provide better anonymity online, whether the website or app uses HTTP or HTTPS.
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So… is there a VPN built into your iPhone?
The short answer: no. The iPhone doesn’t come with its own built-in VPN and Private Relay is certainly not an answer to that. Worth noting, nor any other Apple device. As with an iPhone, you’ll need a VPN for Mac or a third-party VPN, which you can install from the App Store – although we always recommend signing up directly with a provider’s website to get the best VPN deal.
What are the best VPNs for iPhone users?
Our top three recommended VPN services for iPhone users are ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark. We consider these providers to have the best interface on the iPhone, assimilating well to iOS and providing an intuitive and easy-to-navigate user experience. In keeping with Apple’s reputation for providing a clean, striking aesthetic, all three vendors also mark other key areas.
They maintain fast performance in basic online browsing, gaming and streaming, with all three guaranteeing above-average speeds in our latest round of testing. In fact, NordVPN has maintained its track record of being one of the most reliable and fastest VPNs, with peaks of 730-760Mbps. Surfshark wasn’t far behind at 720-790Mbps. ExpressVPN, while a little slower, still climbs at 420-630Mbps averages, all three sets of results are more than adequate for the average user.
In addition to an abundance of security features including double VPN, split tunneling, kill switches and strong encryption, all three are also capable of opening the doors to all the most popular streaming services. This includes BBC iPlayer, Prime Video and Disney Plus. All three also find our best Netflix VPN guide.