Update: It turns out this was not a bug but an unannounced change in policy, where free developer accounts now have OS beta access. This story has been updated throughout to reflect the change.
Starting with iOS 16.4, Apple changed the way beta distribution works. You previously needed to sign up for a beta or developer account, visit a webpage to download a beta profile, and activate it. This was awkward and annoying, and also allowed the proliferation of unregistered beta profiles.
The new method checks your Apple ID to see if you’re registered with Apple and makes every beta for which you are allowed access available in a drop-down menu. Prior to the iOS 17 Developer Beta release, you had to have a $99/year paid developer membership in order to access Developer Betas. Now, a sudden unannounced policy change allows anyone with a free developer account–available to just about anyone with an Apple ID–to access the iOS 17 Developer Beta.
The free developer account used to only give you access to Xcode and the developer forums. Starting June 6, Apple appears to have changed the terms of that free membership to include beta access. The Apple Developer “Choosing a Membership” page has a chart comparing features which, as of June 5, did not list OS beta releases as a free benefit. Now it does.
This caused many people, including those who haven’t had any sort of developer account for many years, to see the iOS 17 Developer Beta listed in their Software Updates section.
Use caution installing the iOS 17 Developer Beta
If you’re not a developer and you find this on your iPhone, we suggest you exercise extreme caution.
For starters, this stage of the beta is pretty well broken. It’s full of bugs and lots of things don’t work right. There’s a reason the public beta comes weeks after the initial developer beta–you can expect degraded performance, bugs, crashes, missing features, and more.
If you decide to download the iOS 17 Developer Beta, we suggest you use a device that is not responsible for any critical activity–alarms, car access, digital ID cards or credit cards, and so on. Important apps can and do stop working with these early betas, especially the earliest Developer Betas.