VPN l June 23, 2021

Apple Private Relay vs traditional VPN

Every year, at WWDC, Apple releases a bunch of new features that take the industry by storm. This year that feature is Private Relay, or as some people call it, Apple VPN.

So, what’s exciting about this new Apple VPN? Is it any different from the ones we normally use like Smart DNS Proxy?

Let’s check the Private Relay aka Apple VPN and see how it compares with a regular VPN.

Let’s first start with what’s similar in them.

iCloud+ Private Relay Vs VPN: Similarities

1. Both mask your IP address

Both services mask your IP address and hide it from trackers and internet service providers.

For example, on the left, we’ve got the iPhone running iOS15 with Private Relay enabled and on the right side, we’ve got a regular smartphone that runs an SDP VPN. Throughout the video, we’ll use them to show you the difference.

So, whenever you search for ‘What’s my IP address’ on Google with and without VPN turned ON, as you can see, you will be greeted with a different IP address.

Similarly, once you turn on the Private Relay from iCloud settings, your IP address will be masked. That’s if you go to Google and search for your IP address, and then go to Safari and search for the same, as you see the IP address is different. Meaning, both services are effectively masking the IP address.

And not just that- both Private Relay and VPN hide your exact location from trackers.

2. Both can unblock websites

Another similarity between both services is that both can help you access websites that are blocked from your internet service providers.

For example, it's common knowledge that VPN helps you unblock websites that are blocked by your ISP or your government. So, I won’t talk a lot about it.

However, on this iPhone running iOS15, I was surprised to see the adult sites such as playboy’s site - which is blocked by Indian government, was easily accessible with Apple’s Private Relay. Although this could change in the future, with the public release of iOS15.

iCloud+ Private Relay vs VPN: Differences

So far, the VPN and Private Relay look similar, and you might be considering letting go of your VPN. But before that, let’s take a look at what’s different between a traditional VPN and Apple’s Private Relay.

1. Private Relay only works on Safari

One of the biggest differences between both services is that Private Relay works only on the Safari browser.

This way, Apple is trying to give users an incentive to switch to Safari.

A traditional VPN, however, works on all browsers and apps and devices. So, if you’re using Chrome, Firefox or even desktop or Smart TVs, a VPN is still your only option.

2. Private Relay cannot unblock geo restriction

Another major difference between both services is in unblocking geo-restrictions.

Private Relay masks your location but still keeps it within your country. For example, when I searched ‘What’s my location’ on Google with Private Relay turned ON, it showed my location in Delhi, India. But if I search for same thing on Google Chrome, it shows my actual location that’s - Noida, India. There's no option to change my location to the country of my choice. Therefore, with Private Relay, I can’t access Netflix US or BBC UK, Amazon Prime or HBO Max.

VPNs, on the other hand, lets you choose from various servers across different countries. So, if something is geo-restricted in India, say BBC UK, I can simply switch to a UK server using a VPN and access BBC UK. Similarly, I can switch to any US servers to get access to Netflix US catalog. Although, you will most likely need a paid VPN to unblock geo-restrictions.

3. Private Relay is not free

Another difference is unlike popular belief, Private Relay isn't free but it cost significantly less than a VPN.

For example, if you're already paying for iCloud storage - which starts at as little as $1, the Private Relay feature along with many other privacy options are already added at no extra cost.

Most VPNs cost a separate subscription, which usually starts at $3 to $5 per month. Although, you can get free VPNs as well, but those are either not reliable, secure or offer limited bandwidth. We highly recommend a paid VPN such as Smart DNS Proxy.

4. Private Relay is technically more secure

In an interview with FastCompany, Apple’s software chief, Craig Federighi talked about the issues with VPN service.

“With a traditional VPN, users’ internet traffic is encrypted and the ISP doesn't know what site you are visiting or your actual IP address. But the VPN provider itself knows your real IP and the websites you’re visiting. And the problem is, you can never be sure what a VPN is doing with your browsing data.

iCloud Private Relay, on the other hand, uses a dual-hop architecture, encrypting it before and after it leaves your device. In simple words, not even Apple knows where you’re headed on the internet.

5. Private Relay is not available in China

Another minor difference between the two services is the availability in various countries.

Apple's new encrypted browsing feature won’t be available in China, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.

So, if you are living or planning to visit these countries anytime in future, VPN is your only choice. That said, only a few VPNs that are registered with Chinese government are officially allowed to work in China, so if you are planning to visit China, it’s advisable to do a thorough research.

6. Private Relay always stays ON and connected

Another small difference between both is that once you enable the Apple’s Private Relay, it always stays ON and encrypts all your browsing by default. Unlike VPN you don’t have to manually enable or disable it.

Closing words

While there are some similarities between iCloud+ Private Relay vs VPN such as masking IP addresses, both of them are quite different products. Apple Private Relay specialize more in terms of privacy and security. However, if you are looking to bypass geographical restrictions, ability to choose different servers, or don’t want to restrict yourself to the Safari browser then VPN is still the only choice here.

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Thank you for reading and watching and see you in the next one.