The public betas for Apple's new Mac, iPhone, and iPad operating systems are here. But don't go rushing out to download.
I am what you might call an "early adopter" when it comes to technology — I love new features, hate waiting, and don't mind glossing over imperfections when there are exciting new features to be had.
But is it who you are, reader? The public betas bring a ton of brilliant new features and apps to both iOS and macOS, to be sure, but they also bring their fair share of unfinished bits: freezing apps, randomly rebooting springboards, slow processing, and things that plain don't work properly.
If you're on the fence about whether to jump into public beta land or not, here's a quick overview of the perks — and problems — that come with running beta software.
Do you have a non-mission-critical device you can test with?
This is the first question I ask people when they're debating running any sort of beta: Is this a machine or device that, if it catastrophically breaks, will end up destroying your life in any way? If the answer is yes, I emphatically reply: Do not run the beta. If you have an older iOS device, a second Mac, or extra space on your primary Mac to run a partition, you're in much better shape to consider running beta software.
Granted, I've never run a beta that completely wrecked my iPhone; even the earliest of developer previews have mostly played nice over the years. All the same, better safe than sorry: If you can't risk your device to a beta, you shouldn't be running that beta.
What features are really must-have for you?
If the only reason you want to upgrade is for third-party Siri support, stickers in Messages, or Auto Unlock on your Mac, I hate to break it to you — but you won't be able to really enjoy these things until the fall. When it comes to third-party apps, developers have had about a three-week head start to augment or improve their programs; that's not a ton of time to build much of anything.
On top of that, Apple won't let developers submit apps for iOS 10 until the fall — so even if your favorite messaging tool has an updated version of its app, you wouldn't be able to see or use it.
Other pre-release features may require additional devices — which also need special software. To use Auto Unlock, for example, your Apple Watch needs to be running watchOS 3 — something you can't get unless you're running a developer beta, rather than the public version. (Why isn't Apple offering public beta versions of watchOS 3? The company hasn't said officially, but I would bet it has something to do with being unable to downgrade without sending your watch directly to Apple. Not exactly user-friendly.)
There are also features, such as Apple Music's new Discovery playlists, which simply haven't yet been implemented on the server side. Instead of seeing awesome content, you may end up with blank white screens, or buttons that you can't actually tap.
Do you like reporting bugs?
As iOS and macOS continue to grow in complexity, it becomes harder and harder to catch every bug internally before the first release. It's a big reason why Apple offers public betas: User feedback can help shape the operating system so that by the time Fall rolls around, most of the nasty bugs and weird user interface errors have been squashed.
Apple even offers dedicated feedback apps for both the iOS and macOS public betas, so that it's easier than ever to file bugs. But if you're more interested in messing around with stickers in Messages than letting Apple know if a sticker crashes your phone, the public beta may not be the operating system for you.
Bottom line: When in doubt, you probably shouldn't
Honesty here: If you don't have an extra device to spare or partition space to use, it's probably not in your best interest to run Apple's betas. Software like this can muck up your day-to-day routine, and that can potentially result in all sorts of frustrating situations. I've missed morning appointments due to malfunctioning alarms, been unable to listen to streamed music over Bluetooth, and had third-party apps randomly crash on me while in the middle of typing.
I don't mind dealing with that. But you may well might. If you need your Mac, iPhone, or iPad for work or waking up or anything crucial, play it safe: Fall 2016 will be here before you know it, and those features you're so excited for will be a lot more fun when they don't result in lost productivity.
That said, if you don't mind putting up with bugs or you have an auxiliary device, the public betas can be a lot of fun — and you can be personally responsible for helping Apple fix and improve aspects of its software you find lacking or buggy. (Few things are more satisfying than knowing you helped push forward a fix that will eventually help millions of users.)
- FAQ: Apple's beta software
- Should you run beta software?
- iOS 10 public beta: The ultimate guide
- macOS Sierra public beta: The ultimate guide
- iOS 10 developer beta: The ultimate guide
- macOS developer beta: The ultimate guide
- iOS 10: Everything you need to know
- macOS Sierra: Everything you need to know