You’re tempted, aren’t you?

You’ve seen those screenshots of beautifully-customised iOS 16 lock screens, and you’re desperate to see what Stage Manager is really like on your shiny new iPad Pro, aren’t you?

I get it, completely. Apple’s decision to allow normal folk to try out forthcoming versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS was both admirable… and a bit silly.

Let me explain.

Why it’s so dangerous

Beta test software can be very rough indeed. Granted, Apple has got a lot better at knocking bugs out of the park far earlier on – often before even the developer beta ships – but that still doesn’t mean you get to try out a polished end product.

That polished end product only arrives when the ‘golden master’, as it’s known, is ready – and that’s normally very close to the launch date of the public-ready version.

Think how much you rely on your iPhone, Mac, or iPad. They’re essential tools, aren’t they? So essential, in fact, that we often forget just how much we rely on the astronomical amount of clever stuff that’s going on behind the scenes.

These operating systems are doing so much to make our lives more efficient, information-rich, and connected. If one line of code falls over itself or is missing entirely, the consequences can be pretty dire.

The inability to call someone right when you need to. A music playlist at your big party bash that continually crashes. A camera shutter button that fails and misses your kid’s first steps.

Beta operating systems can inadvertently cause all of this stuff, which is why they demand a sensible, level-headed approach.

How to tell if it’s for you

I may have just made your mind up for you. If you read the last few paragraphs and thought, “erm – that sounds horrible”, I’d give the Apple public beta test a miss.

If you’re a little more adventurous and have already thought this through, then you probably already have a plan.

This is vitally important because, in my experience, beta testing only really works if you don’t rely on a single device. Whether that’s your iPhone, iPad or Mac, it really is a sensible idea to have another one to hand, just in case something goes hideously wrong with your beta test device.

The following setup is why I can safely beta test Apple’s forthcoming OS releases:

  • iOS 16: installed on my iPhone 13 mini, but I always have an Android phone with me in case of an emergency.
  • iPadOS 16: installed on my M1 iPad Air, but I have 9,127 other iPads if the former implodes.
  • macOS Ventura: installed on my M1 MacBook Air, which has recently been replaced as my daily driver by the M2 MacBook Air.

I’m in a fortunate (or, ‘expensive’, depending on which way you look at it) position; few people have or need that many devices. But my approach does reveal the kind of backup system you need in place if you’re going to install Apple’s betas on your devices and avoid the perils we discussed earlier.

My experience with the current betas

I’ve only been using the public betas for a week or so, and it has been largely uneventful when it comes to bugs – bar one notable exception.

Starting with macOS Ventura, it feels damn-near release ready. I think this might be due to the relatively minor changes that have taken place this year. Stage Manager works fine, and I’m yet to run into any serious glitches; it all feels very macOS Monterey, to be honest.

iPadOS 16 isn’t far off that, either. Stage Manager and multitasking, in general, is a bit rough around the edges, but I haven’t experienced any big crashes. Indeed, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in iPadOS 16 without ever wanting to throw the iPad out of the window.

iOS 16 is a different matter. This current version of the public beta is as rough as a badger’s backside at times. Here are some of the frustrations I’ve encountered:

  • AirDrop not working;
  • music randomly stopping;
  • the ‘Driving’ focus mode engaging while I’m sitting at my desk;
  • the iPhone getting very hot for no discernible reason; and
  • super glitchy performance in WhatsApp when attempting to send stupid photos and GIFs to people.

It just feels very beta-like, and it’s a prime example of why you really should tread carefully with this stuff.

That new Lock Screen stuff is rather lovely, mind!

Final thought

One of the scariest things about beta testing on primary devices is that things can change considerably with each release. Today’s beta might be super-stable – release-ready, even – but what if tomorrow’s update kills an important feature for you?

It’s also worth mentioning that very few software developers update their apps to follow the progress of Apple’s betas (not externally, at least). This means your favourite or most-relied on app could cease to work through no fault of the developer.

I know how tempting it is to jump on the beta test bandwagon, but please proceed with caution!

For those of you who have already installed the betas on your devices, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Get involved in the comments!