iOS 17.5 is here, laying the foundation for iPhone sideloading

Apple released iOS 17.5 to all compatible iPhones earlier today. There aren't a lot of user-facing changes in this latest version of iOS, which isn't surprising since it's only been about two months since we first saw iOS 18.

Still, iOS 17.5 will be another big update for some iPhone users, as Apple adds support for downloading apps directly from the web. After updating to iOS 17.5, you can sideload apps on your iPhone as long as you live in the EU.

Install the application over the network (EU only)

Following an announcement in March, iOS 17.5 introduces the ability to download apps directly from the developer's website instead of using the App Store. The first 17.5 beta gives developers the option to host their apps on the web, while the second lets users download those apps to their iPhones. It's the latest fundamental change Apple has made to its platform following a European Commission ruling that forced the company to allow developers to run their own third-party app stores, offer a true third-party web browser, and other significant changes.

If you don't use iOS, downloading software from a website and using it on your phone is nothing new. This practice, known as sideloading, is common on Android and is essentially the preferred way to get new apps on desktop operating systems like Windows, Linux, and macOS. Sideloading functionality will also be available in iPadOS in the near future – again only in the EU.

Apple has resisted the practice on iPhones since the inception of iOS, claiming that sideloading puts users at risk. While there is some truth to this, there are many legitimate apps that don't exist in official app stores due to a lack of oversight and bad actors tricking users into installing malware. As long as the user is careful, they should be able to download the program safely.

Apple being Apple, even after this change rolls out, you won't be able to simply download any old app you want from the internet: the company is not happy with the developers who can offer this service, and the apps that can offer it. Limits are set. Can be sold online. Additionally, developers still need to provide a portion of their revenue to Apple, so the entire process won't be too far removed from what happens in the App Store. Still, regardless, this is a step in the right direction for EU users. There are no changes to Apple's app download policies outside of Europe.

There are some changes coming to Apple News+

For everyone else outside the EU, the interesting changes coming still make iOS 17.5 worth installing right now. Apple News+ in particular is getting some updates: If you pay for Apple News, you can now try a new game: Quartiles. In this game, players pick from tiles that each contain two or three letters to build words, which can be composed of one to four tiles. For example, you might see the tiles "art," "ist," "ic," and "ally," which you can use to create the word "artisticly." If you pay for Apple News+, you can add this game to your roster of news games, including Wordle and Connections.

Another new feature for Apple News+ is an offline mode that pulls content from the Today feed and News+ tabs natively to your iPhone. This way you can view daily updates when you don't have an internet connection (such as when you're on a flight). Plus, there's now a scoreboard section in News+ Puzzles for keeping tabs on stats in quartiles, crosswords, and mini-crosswords.

Detect unwanted location trackers

After teaming up with Google, Apple has released a new standard for detecting Bluetooth trackers across platforms: Detecting Unwanted Location Trackers. Under this standard, any iPhone running iOS 17.5 and any Android device running Android 6.0 or higher will be able to identify unknown Bluetooth trackers and alert you with a "[Item] Found Moving With You" message.

According to Apple, if you receive this message on your iPhone, it means someone's AirTag, Find My Accessory, or "other industry specification-compliant Bluetooth tracker" is with you. Alerts will come with instructions on what the tracker is, how to play noises to locate the tracker, and how to disable the tracker.

Other changes in iOS 17.5

Although iOS 17.5 is a small update, there are still some new features worth paying attention to. The Podcasts widget will now change its color to reflect what you're listening to, rather than the plain purple color of the podcast itself, and the web browser access keys menu in Privacy & Security has a new icon. Starting with the second beta, you'll find a prompt in the Notes app that guides you through features like tags and lists, while the Books app has a new shortcut to the Reading Goals section.

MacRumors has spotted potentially upcoming features in 17.5's code, including a "block all participants" button in FaceTime, a battery health menu for iPads, and references to the new Apple Pencil and its "squeeze" feature.