By Dan Moren
March 12, 2015 1:00 PM PT
iOS public betas are here
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
After almost eight months of OS X public betas, Apple’s decided to take the plunge and, for the first time, offer the same for iOS. You can enroll your device in the iOS beta program on Apple’s site, and a pre-release version of iOS 8.3 is available now.1
To me, this says something about the state of iOS development: it’s a mature product on par with OS X, not one that’s still in its nascent stages. Almost eight years in, that sounds about right.
It’s hard to imagine the Apple of just a few years ago taking this step. Betas have, in the past, been closely guarded, only available to those with a paid developer membership, the thinking being that programmers need to test their software against the version Apple will ship next in order to find bugs. There were always those non-developers who downloaded beta versions—both aboveboard and via more questionable means—to check out unreleased features, but never were the doors thrown open to the masses.
There’s an upside and a downside to allowing John Q. Public to test beta software. Let’s talk about downsides first: this is pre-release software, and pre-release software means bugs. Possibly very nasty bugs. Like wipe-your-iPhone bugs. I’m sure Apple’s trying to minimize the amount of instability in the builds it’s providing to the public2—which typically are not quite the same as those provided to developers—but that doesn’t mean that issues don’t slip through the cracks. After all, that’s part of why they’re releasing it to the public.
Which brings us to the upside. Apple’s taken plenty of flak recently for what some believe is its declining record of quality assurance. By distributing public betas, Apple’s mobilizing a whole new army of potential testers. Hopefully, that means that more bugs get caught before the full releases appear. Apple already says that feedback on the Yosemite public betas “continues to help [it] shape OS X.”
That, of course, depends on how vigilant users of the public beta are at submitting feedback. Apple’s providing a Feedback Assistant app as part of the public beta to encourage users to chime in.
Whether or not you believe the bugginess of Apple software in recent versions is an institutional problem, more eyes on potential problem areas seems like a net positive. So chalk up another one for the new, open Apple.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]
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