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Will the iOS 17.4 beta bring iPhone sideloading testing?

Published Jan 24th, 2024 10:24AM EST
iPhone 15 Screen and USB-C port.
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Apple rolled out its iOS 17.3 update for the iPhone lineup, which brings the security upgrade I’ve been waiting for: new features to protect the handset against theft. I already told you that enabling the Stolen Device Protection feature was the first thing I did after updating my iPhone 14 Pro to iOS 17.3.

The next thing I did was wonder whether iOS 17.4 might finally bring sideloading to the iPhone. I have the feeling that it might happen, considering that we’re getting awfully close to that deadline that Apple has undoubtedly been dreading.

Come March 7th, Apple will have to allow third-party app stores and more in the European Union. Third-party app stores, third-party payment systems, and iPhone sideloading will have to be available to customers in the EU.

iPhone sideloading will be restricted to the EU

Before you get too excited, I’ll remind you there’s no indication Apple will roll out sideloading support globally, even though that is considered by some to be the right thing to do.

The iPhone sideloading experience will be restricted to the European region initially. But Apple might have to test it before releasing it in the wild. Apple’s beta program is available to anyone interested in running early iOS software, so Apple could enable sideloading in its upcoming iOS 17.4 beta.

The obvious problem with such an approach is that Apple would have to announce it’s testing the feature before releasing it. Support for iPhone sideloading can’t appear quietly in an iOS 17.4 beta release. It would immediately be discovered, as the iOS beta program is popular with developers and regular users.

iPhone 15 Plus Dynamic Island.
iPhone 15 Plus Dynamic Island. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

Then again, considering the big changes the Digital Markets Act (DMA) is about to bring to the tech space in Europe, such announcements aren’t surprising. Meta just announced that it will soon let you disconnect your Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger accounts in Europe soon. Presumably, the features will roll out come March 7th. Apple could pull off a similar announcement.

A different option would be quietly rolling out iPhone sideloading support in Europe. as a last-minute addition to iOS 17.4. Without any testing or worldwide publicity. After all, reports say Apple reportedly has iPhone sideloading support ready. The company might have been testing it internally for a long while now.

But, again, this would get major attention around the world. Many developers can’t wait for iPhone sideloading to arrive. The same goes for some iPhone users.

Finally, there’s also the possibility that Apple will roll out iPhone sideloading as a “beta” feature via the official iOS 17.4 update. The company could say that support for third-party app stores and app downloads from any source requires more public testing. But said testing would also require a stable iOS 17.4 release. Who knows whether the EU would accept such a solution?

I’ll also say that developers will probably want to test their third-party app store apps for the European region. The list might include Microsoft, but also Epic and anyone else looking to offer EU iPhone owners an alternative to the official App Store.

iPhone 15 Pro on a shelf.
iPhone 15 Pro on a shelf. Image source: Jonathan Geller, BGR

When is iOS 17.4 beta coming out?

All this is speculation at this point. Apple is yet to announce support for iPhone sideloading. But a recent visit to the US from Margrethe Vestager made it clear that Apple will have to implement the DMA changes in March.

Vestager met with Tim Cook and other tech execs during her tour. She said that the DMA changes are mandatory, regardless of any appeals these companies might have going on.

Whether sideloading testing comes to iOS 17.4 beta or not, Apple should roll out this new beta soon. On that note, here’s when Apple released the iOS 17.x betas:

As you can see, Apple spent about a month testing each iOS 17 beta before releasing the finished iOS update. With the final iOS 17.3 update ready for the masses, it’s a matter of time until iOS 17.4 beta 1 comes out.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.