Apple yesterday launched a first-ever public beta for iOS, offering some iPhone and iPad users a chance to test iOS 8.3, a still-under-construction edition that has been in developers' hands for more than a month.
The program, first reported two weeks ago by 9to5mac.com, followed the debut of a similar program last year for OS X Mavericks. The Mac beta was later extended to include Yosemite, the current OS edition.
It was unclear Thursday whether Apple is allowing anyone to register with the iOS 8.3 beta, is rolling out the program gradually, or is limiting access to those who had previously received invitations via the Cupertino, Calif. company's AppleSeed preview program.
Computerworld staffers who had previously registered for the Yosemite beta were unable to access the iOS version. They were not alone, as discussion threads filled with questions from people who wanted to know why they could not find the preview.
For one Computerworld reader, that might be just as well.
"With all beta software on a computer, users are generally discouraged from testing a beta operating system on their main computer, or a computer used for critical work," noted Eric Jacobs in an email last month after news circulated about a possible iOS public preview. "For Mac users, that's easily doable with a second computer, with an external hard disk, or a partitioned hard drive. Users can hop back and forth between the beta OS and the current OS.
"But this doesn't work with a phone. Most people have only one phone. Installing beta software that might crash, drop calls, or in the worst case, completely 'brick' [the phone], seems far more risky than testing a desktop OS beta where users can take appropriate steps to avoid potential problems."
Jacobs had a point: OS makers try to deter users from running pre-release code on their primary system. But how many have more than one smartphone?
For those who do try iOS 8.3, Apple recommended that they first back up their iPhone or iPad to their PC or Mac using iTunes — not to iCloud through an over-the-air backup — so that they can, if necessary, restore the device to its pre-beta state.
That would be a good idea: Apple's production releases of iOS have had problems in the past.
"What if an iOS beta has a bug like the one that hit 8.0.1 and users can't make phone calls?" asked Jacobs, referring to the fiasco last fall when Apple issued its first iOS 8 update, then had to quickly retract it.
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