Apple’s beta software is shiny and new, but is it worth the early access?

If you rely on your devices for anything important, wait for the public release

Remember that quote from The Lion King about the shadowy place? Mufasa was most certainly talking about beta software.

Every June, Apple holds its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and showcases shiny new versions of its operating systems (OS). The crowds ooh and ah (and occasionally scoff) at new products and features, and hype levels go through the roof to try them out.

Following the conference’s keynote, Apple also offers developers the chance to install beta versions of the upcoming software, months prior to the official release. Sounds exciting, right? So exciting that many members of the general public rush to find ways of getting the software onto their own devices as well.

Unfortunately, there are a myriad of risks involved with installing beta software on personal devices that should not be taken lightly. Beta OS software is meant for developers to employ in test environments so they can make sure their existing and future applications continue to function correctly upon the official release. Betas are often full of debilitating bugs that can break functionality of the primary OS and third-party applications alike (the latter in particular).

This year, Apple included a special warning on their developer portal to individuals seeking to install beta software on personal devices:

Important Note for Thrill Seekers: If you’re interested in living on the edge and trying out the great new features in iOS 13, we strongly advise waiting for the many bug fixes and refinements coming to the public beta next month.

Even the public Apple Beta Software Program, which Apple began a number of years back, involves inherent risk. The delayed release of the public beta at the start of each new beta cycle is meant to allow Apple time to fix the most critical and debilitating bugs. However, it’s impossible for all issues to be discovered between the release of the first developer beta and the first public beta. All software (including non-beta software, for that matter) is susceptible to bugs.

Software development is not an exact science. Think of it as more of a house of cards. One tiny change or issue can compromise the stability and reliability of the entire OS. The number of threats to that stability increase tenfold when employing beta software.

In addition, all betas are not created equally. Betas of point releases (e.g. iOS 12.4) tend to be more stable because their framework is built upon currently released software, but even then there is no guarantee all functionality will be stable, especially with third-party applications. A delicate dance is constantly being performed between Apple’s own development team and developers of third-party applications to maintain stability.

In all transparency, I am the very “thrill seeker” for which Apple’s warning is intended. I installed the latest beta software on my devices as soon as they were available, something I’ve done regularly for several years. However, I also have a deep understanding of how to revert to previous operating systems (FYI: it’s not easy and often involves data loss). Ultimately, I fully understand and accept the sacrifices involved and I am met with negative side effects. Every. Single. Year.

Issues I’ve experienced over the years include cellular connectivity issues, data loss, inability to launch or perform tasks in applications (due to freezing, crashing, or broken functionality), unexpected system/device crashes and reboots, decreased battery life, and much more. Apple provides methods for submitting feedback, but there is no guarantee a specific bug will be fixed until much closer to the official OS software releases in late-Summer/early-Fall (historically, this has occurred around mid-September).

Does this look like fun?

I may expect and be willing to work around the issues that come with running beta software on personal devices, but I unequivocally do not recommend you do the same. If you are considering installing Apple beta software on any of your daily use personal devices, I strongly urge you to heed Apple’s warning and reconsider.

If you’re a rebel like me, proceed at your own risk. Remember that quote from The Lion King about the shadowy place? Mufasa was most certainly talking about beta software.

It may seem like a long time between now and mid-September, but you’ll get to spend an entire year with iOS 13, iPadOS, macOS Catalina, watchOS 6, and tvOS 13 when they release to the masses later this year.

If you need something to scratch your tech itch immediately, now is as good a time as any to start learning how to code your own software. Apple offers a number of great resources for accomplishing just that.

You may be reading my books someday.

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