Best VPNs for iOS

iOSApple has built a very good reputation over the years for protecting the privacy of their users.  Since the Snowden revelations, Apple’s Tim Cook has made several statements and the company has taken actions to protect users by encrypting the data on their devices.  While the data on your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iTouch) is encrypted, your Internet communications are not.  That’s the primary reason to use a VPN with iOS.  In addition, you can rely on a VPN to help unblock access to geo-restricted content in other regions of the world.

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How to Find the Right VPN for iOS

In year’s past it was more common to see VPN users start on desktop and extend their usage to mobile.  That has changed as we all rely on our cell phones and tablets to keep us connected.  Some might argue too connected at times.  Regardless, the ever growing popularity of mobile data usage has VPN providers taking notice.  You will find that the larger VPN services now cater to mobile users.  While they’ve had iOS and Android apps for a few years now, the larger providers have are focusing more and more on mobile.  That means you can expect a cleaner user interface, advanced features, and most importantly a more reliable experience.  Those of you who had a chance to try some of the mobile VPN apps in year’s past know what I mean.  While they offered custom apps, the usability and reliability was lacking.  That’s still the case with some providers, but the ones on our list have moved well past that point.

VPN providers with custom iOS apps

For starters, a provider offering a custom app for iPhone and iPad shows their commitment to iOS users.  Perhaps it was alright a few years ago to ask users to manually configure a VPN connection but that just isn’t the case anymore.  Instead there are several popular providers that offer iOS apps.  You will find varying degrees of quality.  One way to find out whether or not a VPN provider is keeping up with technology is to look at the release date of their latest iOS app.  You can also look to see what version of iPhone or iPad the app is customized for and look for the latest releases.  If the app is customized for large screen iPhone and iPad Pro devices then the provider is keeping up with the times.

Beyond looking at the latest release date, you can also note the current version number.  As you might guess, early releases are typically less reliable than later versions.  I’m excited to share that the VPNs in our list have the speed and reliability factors figured out.  That has allowed them to move on to adding extra features to make their iOS apps easier to use.  They have well designed user interfaces and leave the connection issues behind.

OpenVPN Connect for iOS devices

You will find that a number of VPN providers support iOS by using OpenVPN Connect.  The app is open source so any VPN company can configure their service to work with it.  The same is true for VPNs that use the open source OpenVPN client for desktop.  Both work just fine but they lack the polish and advanced features offered by some of the custom clients.  If you choose a provider that only supports OpenVPN Connect then I suggest you test things out before making a final decision.  It’s better than manually configuring for VPN for iOS.  The app itself it just fine.  It’s whether or not the provider has good instructions since they are part of the set up.  This can lead to frustration.  Ask for a test account to see how well it works.

Manually configure a VPN connection for iPhone or iPad

Both iPhone and Pad natively support third party VPNs so you can manually configure a connection.  I only recommend a manual connection when you don’t have any other choice.  While it will work, the effort involved is needless and can be frustrating depending on your provider.  If you decide to go with a VPN service that doesn’t offer a custom app for iOS then I would suggest you ask for a test account.  That way you don’t get a rude surprise after paying for VPN service.  The last thing you want to do is purchase a year of VPN only to find out that it doesn’t meet their needs.  For that reason I also suggest you read their terms to see if they offer a money back guarantee and if so make sure you understand any limitations placed on it.  We’ve seen providers limit usage, number of connections, and some get even more creative.  That’s why it’s always good to at least skim the find print.

What are the Benefits of Using a VPN on iPhone or iPad?

When considering which VPN to use with iPhone or iPad, I would suggest you give some thought to your intended usage.  Do you plan to use the VPN primarily for privacy protection or to view content in other countries?  A VPN will work for both purposes but the features you are looking for will vary based on your purpose.  Let’s take a look at a few scenarios:

  • Privacy protection – if your primary goal is to encrypt your data and protect yourself from wifi attacks then finding a reliable VPN with high levels of encryption is key.  You will notice I said reliable.  There are plenty of VPNs out there advertising nice looking iOS apps at a low monthly or annual price.  Be aware that sometimes what you get isn’t what you were expecting.  In the case of using a VPN for iPhone, you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why some VPNs won’t stay connected when using an iOS device.  Some just aren’t reliable enough to count on.  If you want privacy protection then a VPN that drops all the time isn’t acceptable.  I recommend IPvanish, ExpressVPN, or VyprVPN for privacy protection.
  • Unblock content – if your main goal is to view content in other regions then you will want a fast VPN with the right server locations.  For example, fans of Netflix will find that a VPN opens their US library of content from anywhere, and also opens access to other Netflix regions.  The key is connecting to a VPN server in the same region you want to watch content in.  The same is true for other streaming services.  You can connect to a server in the UK to view BBC iPlayer content.  The most popular locations for streaming services are the US and UK.  I recommend IPVanish and PIA for that purpose.  If you want to view content in more obscure locations then HMA is a good choice.
  • Avoid firewall restrictions – this can range from government placed restrictions to company and school networks.  The Great Firewall of China would definitely top the list.  Getting around that level of firewall can be difficult.  My best suggestion is to have more than one VPN since China tries their best to block them.  I would recommend VyprVPN for their proprietary Chameleon protocol.  For school and corporate network restrictions the use of a reliable VPN will be enough to circumvent any restrictions.  All of the VPNs on our list work well for that purpose.

Final Thoughts

Protecting your online privacy starts with a VPN.  Remember to consider your purpose for using a VPN in order to choose the best service.  You might also consider what other operating systems you plan to use.  All of the VPN providers we selected for this post offer nice, easy to use iOS apps along with custom client software for Mac, Windows, and Android.  You can use them on any of your devices.  Some even offer multiple connections.  That will allow you to protect your laptop and mobile device at the same time.  This is especially helpful when you travel.  You can also use any of the VPNs in this post to protect every device on your home network by setting the VPN up through your router.  You will find instructions for configuring DD-WRT and Tomato routers on the provider’s websites.

A final note would be to ask your VPN provider before upgrading to a new major version of iOS.  For example, when iOS 9 came out, VPN services had to modify their apps.  Some companies are faster than others.  You don’t want to upgrade iOS and then find out your VPN no longer functions properly.  Instead I would suggest checking the Apple store page for the VPN app you use to ensure it supports the current version of iOS.  If it doesn’t clearly spell out that the app supports the current release then I suggest you contact their support staff.  Apple likes to roll out major releases in the Fall.  You will find that our recommended VPN’s keep up with current iOS updates and take advantage of the new technology to refine their apps and add enhanced features.  They all have liberal refund policies to give you a chance to test their services as well.  Protect your privacy and unblock channels in other countries with any of these VPN providers.