Leaks abound ahead of iOS 17’s official unveiling, with general improvements to performance but no major overhauls or revamps expected. That is, unless you’re in Europe.
While still awaiting official confirmation and comment, in order appease European regulators, it appears that iOS 17 will enable sideloading as a self-inflicted bypass of the App Store. In the past, sideloading was technically possible but broke Apple's policies, meaning that apps which allowed sideloading were removed when discovered and their developers could be banned.
Now, if sideloading is to be allowed in an official capacity to comply with European law, it places the famously 'locked-down' Apple world in a curious position and begs many questions.
How will such a feature even work? Will there be two versions of iOS? One for those inside and one for outside of Europe? Will overseas developers be able to take advantage of the feature? And what happens to a UK phone taken abroad?
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Of course, sideloading will open up Apple users to a range of new apps and content. Expect interesting and countless novel and often free apps to surface, alongside new businesses to run them. However, there are concerns in regard to the safety of this move, both in terms of potential app hacks and privacy, not least from Apple themselves.
And Apple is clearly upset by the idea. In a document dating back from 2021 - released as Apple's lockdown looked likely to be contested - they stated that opening up in this way would "cripple privacy and security" and that, "Over the past four years, Android devices were found to have 15 to 47 times more malware infections than iPhone."
Apple’s tumultuous history with devs and its App Store is well-known at this point, with the company continuing to take 30 percent of earnings from approved apps. When the new European law was first introduced last September, Apple made no comment, but it seems they have been preparing changes behind the scenes in order to comply and the rumours suggest that iOS 17 - revealed at their upcoming World Wide Developers Conference June 5 to June 9 - will be where hell freezes over and iOS opens up.
Quite how region-exclusive sideloading could work is anyone's guess, as is the way in which Apple users will take the update. With Apple users consistently spending more in apps and with years of living in Apple's walled garden behind them it remains to be seen as to how far and wide they're going to fling open iOS's new, unprotected back door.
One thing is for certain. Sideloading is looking like the most explosive thing happening in iOS 17, and potentially in any iOS update since its inception.