Apple developer accounts have historically cost $99 to get a hold of, but for that, you also get access to Apple's developer relations teams, resources, tools, and, of course, beta releases. Those beta releases include macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Now, it seems that everyone can download those betas free of charge instead.
The news means that people who register for a free developer account will be able to download Apple's latest and greatest developer beta updates without having to pay the usual $99 fee. What's more, it also means that they won't have to wait for Apple to release updates to the public beta channel, either. In the case of the iOS 17 beta, that was expected to involve a weeks-long wait. Now, people can download iOS 17 right now - and they can do it for free.
The change was first spotted by iSoftware Updates with Apple updating its developer website documentation to outline the difference between a free developer account and one that will continue to cost $99 per year.
When it comes to the differences, there are plenty. While free developer account owners will get access to Xcode and associated tools, as well as those free OS beta releases, they will still miss out on some features. Those include code-level support, full access to development tools, and more. Also, Apple won't allow free account holders to actually publish anything to the App Store or Mac App Store. To do that, a $99 developer account remains a requirement.
Of course, we would still very much warn against installing the iOS 17 beta in its current form unless you have a dedicated testing device that you can use. The early iOS 17 betas could well have key features missing or others that don't work properly, so keep that in mind here. Installing beta releases is always a risky business, but that's even more apparent when dealing with early developer builds like this.
As for iOS 17 itself, that won't be ready for primetime until this fall - likely in or around September when Apple is also expected to announce the iPhone 15 lineup as well as a number of new Apple Watches.
Apple announced the iOS 17 software update alongside others for the Mac, Apple Watch, iPad, and Apple TV. All of those updates are also expected to ship to the public this fall, in or around September or early October depending on how the beta program progresses.