Apple hints that iOS 17.2 will enable sideloading apps, but not for everyone

Tapping on interactive widgets on iOS 17 on an iPhone.

June Wan/ZDNET

Android users have been sideloading apps for a very long time. What is sideloading? Essentially, it’s the ability to install third-party applications from outside the built-in app store (such as the Google Play Store). Unfortunately, this feature has caused problems because some of those third-party app stores can include apps with malicious code. This problem became so bad that, for a time, Google decided to lock down the feature. Users can now enable the feature in Settings > Apps > Special app access > Install unknown apps.

Also: How to find and remove spyware from your phone

However, I would warn against enabling this unless you are certain the app you want to install is 100% safe. Otherwise, you risk installing an app with malicious code that could turn out to be ransomware.

Trust me when I say that you do not want to experience that.

So, when it was announced that Apple  — faced with new European Union regulations (specifically the Digital Markets Act, which takes effect in 2024) — was considering allowing the sideloading of applications in iOS, I was shocked. The company’s policy on sideloading has been clear (and strict) from the App Store’s early days. However, 9to5mac reported on November 10 that Apple was hinting at moving forward with that feature in the upcoming iOS 17.2.

Since 9to5mac’s report, it has come to light that Apple published a new document for Managed App Distribution, which makes clear what Apple has in store.

Instead of allowing users to sideload apps, the company’s plan is that the feature will be limited to Mobile Device Management (MDM). In other words, this won’t be a feature users can enable or disable. Rather, Managed App Distribution will allow managers of company mobile devices to push apps to phones.

Also: iOS 17: The most impactful new iPhone features are also the ones you’ll notice the least

According to the Managed App Distribution document, “The Managed App Distribution framework works with declarative management to provide a list of managed apps that are assigned to a device. Your app can sort or filter the list of managed apps, and request a view from the Managed App Distribution framework to display. See Integrating Declarative Management for more information.”

I think this is the smart route for Apple to take. Sideloading apps on Android has caused far too many problems with users installing apps…