The web is awash with talk of Apple’s new mobile operating system in the wake of WWDC 2013. As with all new iterations of iOS, Apple developers get access before the rest of us who will have to wait till “fall” for the official build. This isn’t to tease excitable fans, but to provide developers with a chance to get their wares up to date before the final release.
While having your own developer account is one way to secure early access to the iOS 7 beta, it’s not the only way of doing so. There are a couple of ways for impatient iPhone owners to try out the new software for themselves – but remember this is pre-release software: things can and will go wrong.
If you lack patience and absolutely need to get your mitts on iOS 7, read on.
But First, A Warning
Heed this warning, for if you decide to take a chance on iOS 7 and things don’t go swimmingly then I will not be offering step by step recovery procedures in the comments. Everything that needs to be said has been said in this article, so read it carefully first – not afterwards.
iOS 7 is pre-release “beta” software, and is not yet ready for public consumption. Through the use of such software there is a good chance you will encounter software issues, bugs, incomplete features and problems running third-party software including apps you might use on a daily basis. Apple does not recommend running the beta builds on your primary device, particularly because the betas will expire and leave your device useless until you can update to the next version. For iOS 5 and earlier this required a PC or Mac running iTunes, but since iOS 6 updates have arrived over the air. Regardless, the initial iOS 7 install must be performed with a USB cable and Mac or PC running the latest version of iTunes – you cannot install this beta over-the-air.
Apple’s official word is that you cannot downgrade your device to iOS 6 after installing the beta. This means you shouldn’t install iOS 7 unless you are happy running buggy software for a few months.
With that said, some users have reported successfully downgrading to iOS 6, which is covered in the final Downgrading to iOS 6 section of this article. These techniques may stop working at any time, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Now that you are aware what installing the iOS 7 beta means for your device, let’s go through the various methods of doing so.
Get A Developer Account
Apple has always limited iOS pre-releases to developers alone, and for legitimate access you’ll need a developer account. Unlike Google’s Android SDK, the iPhone developer tools are placed behind a $99 annual paywall. In order to have access to the developer side of the App Store or Newsstand, developers must pay the yearly fee – and that includes those of you who want to access iOS 7 early too.
According to Apple documentation developers who cough up the $99 are “allowed to register up to 100 devices for testing and Ad Hoc distribution per membership year”. This means you can’t revoke access to a device once you have granted it access, but that you have 100 single-use tokens instead. This is ideal for businesses, blogs or groups who share a number of devices.
Find A Developer Friend
While this might seem obvious, as previously mentioned each developer account can grant up to 100 devices access to the iOS 7 beta. So, if you have a friend who develops iPhone apps for a living then you might want to buy them a beer and flutter your eyelashes, or something.
As you can see, developers can be difficult to track down; but once they’ve granted access to your device you can install iOS 7 pretty much straight away.
Buy Access For A Token Amount
I can’t really recommend doing this, partly as Apple isn’t fond of the process and partly as it’s blatant profiteering, but it seems to work for many and for that reason I’d rather include it and let you decide. Many companies offer to register iDevices for the developer program, granting them iOS beta access with Apple, for a small fee. This fee can be from as little as $8 and only requires your device’s Unique Device Identifier (UDID) which you can extract using a simple free app. One such website is IMZDL though at present new UDID registrations have been frozen.
These companies grant access to your device using their own developer accounts. If you start to do the sums 100 devices at $8 is $800, which is $701 profit per account when you take the $99 developer fee out of the equation. Apple revoked developer access to a number of companies doing this last year, but more have sprung up and will surely continue to do so. There’s no doubt they’re cheaper than registering your own $99 developer account, but the practice of selling consumers access to free, unfinished software meant for developers isn’t exactly ethical.
Install iOS 7 Straight Up
At the time of writing, this is a genuine and working method of trying out iOS 7. Confirmed by users on Reddit and the iClarified blog, installing iOS 7 is as easy as… installing iOS 7 (yes, the same way developers do it).
First users must get a hold of the .IPSW file for their device, models which are supported include the GSM and CDMA versions of the iPhone 4, 4S and 5. These are available directly from Apple as official downloads, and have also been mirrored via BitTorrent and on file lockers (but I’d never suggest you download from those, naturally).
With the correct IPSW file handy, connect your iPhone to iTunes and make a local backup, making sure you have everything you want to keep copied from your phone. Next, Option+Click (Mac) or Shift+Click (Windows) the Check for Updates or Update (should you need an update) button. A Finder or Windows Explorer window will open, locate your .IPSW, select it then confirm your choice. iTunes will install the new firmware and you can then restore from your local or iCloud backup in the standard manner.
Note: It is not clear why this works for the moment, or how long it will continue to work for. As iOS betas go through a number of versions which expire before release, should Apple close this loop then users who installed without registering their device’s UDID will technically be “stuck” between iOS 7 beta 1 and iOS 7 official. This is assuming that it is not possible to downgrade your device to iOS 6 – the official line from Apple.
We’ve heard otherwise though, hence…
Downgrading to iOS 6
While Apple still maintains those who install the iOS 7 beta will be using it for for the forseeable until iOS 7′s final release, iClarified reports that downgrading is as simple as ever.
According to the blog, to downgrade users must first download the IPSW for their device (citing this location for downloads). Then connect the device in question to a Mac or PC with iTunes open. Next press hold the Home and Sleep/Wake button simultaneously for 10 seconds and then release the Sleep/Wake button until iTunes detects your iPhone has been put into recovery mode. While this happens, your iPhone’s screen will remain black.
With the device still connected, in iTunes Option+Click (Mac) or Shift+Click (Windows) the Restore iPhone… button. A window should open, in it locate the iOS 6 IPSW you downloaded, select it and confirm your selection. iTunes will now attempt to downgrade your device, after which point you can restore from local or iCloud backups.
Alternatively: Have Patience
Of course the other way to get your hands on iOS 7 is to just wait a few months until Apple announces the official release date. Maybe you’re just getting to grips with iOS 6, find nothing in iOS 7 of interest or are just happy to wait. This is what the vast majority of iPhone users will be doing: it doesn’t involve updating beta versions, paying for a developer account or taking any chances – just patience.
Will you be upgrading early to iOS 7? Which route will you take? Or maybe you’ve opted to wait – let us know what you think in the comments, below.
Image credit: Paolo, the iOS Developer (Francesca Guadagnini)