iOS 17 has lots of new features but one of the most-requested abilities — installing apps from outside the App Store — is still missing. However there's been a development on that front thanks to comments from Craig Federighi, VP of software engineering at Apple and therefore the effective face of iOS (via 9to5Mac).
Speaking with John Gruber of Daring Fireball after WWDC 2023, Federighi addressed a direct question about sideloading not appearing in the iOS 17 beta by saying: "we want to make sure that whatever we do is the right thing for our customers and the safety of our customers.”
"We are working with the EU on what safe compliance looks like," he continued, but had nothing else to add on the topic after that.
Apple didn't mention app sideloading at #WWDC23, except for when @gruber explicitly asked Craig Federighi about it during The Talk Show. 🎬 #iOS17 #iOS #Apple pic.twitter.com/Nr9qBHlaobJune 13, 2023
While it's unusual to see an Apple representative talk about sideloading openly like this, we've known something like this was coming for a while. That’s because the European Union has been focusing on iOS and the App Store as a possibly uncompetitive platform, and wants Apple to open things up.
It was previously reported that Apple was working to implement a sideloading system with some safety checks, but only for iPhones sold in the EU where the law applies. It's also been hinted that Apple would permit entire third-party app stores for more convenient downloads outside the App Store, but this seems less likely since it would be more encouraging for regular users who otherwise wouldn’t step outside the App Store.
Is iOS sideloading inevitable?
The interest in App Store sideloading has been around for as long as developers have been making iPhone apps. But things have heated up thanks to pressure from the European Union, who considers Apple's closed ecosystem uncompetitive and bad for consumers.
iOS isn't set up to download apps from outside of the App Store, since Apple claims this is the best for users (and coincidently, for its own business interests). That's not at all like Android, where you can install any APK file with a little knowhow.
Whether it's full non-Apple app stores, or a more convoluted installation process intended for developer use only, opening up the iOS ecosystem will be unprecedented. And if the EU has its way, it'll be coming sooner rather than later.
If you're more interested in what's already in iOS 17, take a look at our best iOS 17 features for a run-down of all the key updates.