If the first rule of business is to keep the customer happy, then Apple has failed miserably in China. The tech giant released the most recent version of its operating system, iOS 16.1.1, on November 9 and removed a key AirDrop file-sharing feature that allows iPhones to AirDrop with any other iPhone in the vicinity. Instead, now when the “everyone” setting is chosen, the phone will disable the “everyone” option in 10 minutes. The AirDrop change only applies to iPhones sold in mainland China.
While it sounds like a minor change, it is monumental for users in authoritarian countries like China, where the AirDrop feature allows citizens to evade censorship. AirDrop technology does not rely on the internet as it allows devices within a small vicinity to create a local network and communicate with one another independently of the internet. It has been a critical tool for organizers of the recent zero-Covid protests across China.
When Apple released the updated iOS, the update did not include the usual language announcing new features and specific changes or improvements instead, the software update only said, “This update includes bug fixes and security updates and is recommended for all users.” Apple never informed its Chinese users that a key feature of the phone was being fundamentally changed. The AirDrop change does not apply anywhere else in the world.