iOS 17.5 Sets the Stage for Sideloading on the iPhone

iOS 17.5 Sets the Stage for Sideloading on the iPhone

Apple released the first developer beta for iOS 17.5 on Tuesday. As we’re only about two months away from our first look at iOS 18, it’s no surprise there aren’t many user-facing changes in this latest beta update.

However, iOS 17.5 will be another monumental update for some iPhone users, as Apple is adding support for downloading apps from the web. Once iOS 17.5 is officially out, you’ll be able to sideload apps on iPhone—as long as you live in the European Union.

App installation via the web (E.U. only)

Following an announcement in March, iOS 17.5 will introduce the ability to download apps directly from developers’ websites, as opposed to using an app store. It’s the latest fundamental change Apple has made to its platform in the wake of rulings from the European Commission that forced the company to allow developers to run their own third-party app stores, offer true third-party web browsers, and more.

If you don’t use iOS, downloading software from a website for use on your phone isn’t a novel experience. The practice, known as sideloading, is quite normal on Android, and is essentially the go-to way to get new apps on desktop operating systems like Windows, Linux, and, yes, macOS.

Apple has resisted the practice on the iPhone since iOS’ inception, claiming that sideloading puts users at risk. While there is some truth to that, as the lack of oversight invites bad actors to trick users into installing malware, there are plenty of legitimate apps that don’t exist on an official app store. As long as users are careful, they should be able to download programs safely.

Apple being Apple, even after this change rolls out, you won’t be able to simply download any old app from the internet you want: The company is placing restrictions on both the developers that can offer this service, as well as the apps that can be sold online. In addition, devs will still need to offer a cut of their earnings to Apple, so the entire process won’t be that far removed from what goes on in the App Store. Still, it’s a step in the right direction—for users in the E.U., anyway. Nothing about Apple’s app download policies is changing outside of Europe.

It’s worth clarifying that the launch of the iOS 17.5 beta 1 doesn’t kick off app downloads, but it does offer developers the opportunity to start building the experience. Web installation will likely not kick in until the final version of iOS 17.5 is officially released in the near future. That means even if you live in the E.U., installing iOS 17.5 beta 1 won’t bring web app downloads to your iPhone just yet.

Other new iOS 17.5 features

Aside from major EU-centric changes, the 17.5 update is a minor one, though there are a few new features to check out. The Podcasts widget will now change its color to reflect whatever you’re listening to, rather than the stock purple color of Podcasts itself, and there’s a new icon for the Passkeys Access for Web Browsers menu in Privacy & Security.

9to5Mac also discovered code in iOS 17.5 that identifies unknown bluetooth trackers and walks users through how to disable them. This would be a welcome security feature, as trackers like AirTags have raised concerns that people could use them for stalking. This code suggests that both Find My-enabled devices as well as third-party trackers would be detectable by iOS 17.5; however, the feature is not currently active.

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