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How to manually add apps to your iOS devices in iTunes 12.7

But be ready for disappointment.

Apple

Last fall’s release of iTunes 12.7 disappointed a lot of people with the abruptness of change. The most notable one was removing the ability for iTunes to handle backing up iOS apps and syncing them directly. Henceforth, you have to use internet-based retrieval of yours app for a new iOS device or after a wipe and restore.

However, there’s still a way to add apps manually, though Apple doesn’t make it easy. Macworld reader Kate wrote in asking about how to get a few apps, including sticker packs, that were no longer being distributed on the App Store, and thus couldn’t be restored as a previous purchase.

They can be copied over in iTunes still. Apple offers somewhat confusing instructions in this support document under “Manually add items from your computer.” You need to find the iOS app files first. Even though iTunes doesn’t automatically sync IPAs, unless you intentionally deleted them, you should find them in Home > Music > iTunes Library > Mobile Application (~/Music/iTunes Library/Mobile Applications/) or a similar folder path where your iTunes media items are stored.

With those in hand, you can’t actually follow Apple’s instructions, because it says to copy the item in the Finder (literally select the IPA and choose Edit > Copy or press Command-C) then Apple advises:

Click on your device in the left sidebar, then click the name of the item that you’re adding. For example, click Tones if you’re adding a ringtone

However, in iTunes 12.7, there’s no Apps item. I found I was able to drag an IPA into the On My Device section, where it lit up and tried to sync. You may also be able to copy and paste as Apple suggests even if you have the wrong category selected, like Tones.

In my case, I only had a single old IPA, and while it tried to copy it over and I see the icon on my iPhone, I believe the is too old to run under iOS 11. You may find a similar problem with apps pulled from the App Store that you try to manually copy over, so be warned.

Related, Kate’s not sure she has the iOS application files, or IPAs, that are associated, but may be able to find them in a Time Machine backup if they haven’t been purged.

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