How developers should approach Apple's first public beta of iOS

Shane Schick

When Apple last updated iOS, I saw a lot of comments on Twitter that went along the lines of, "Is it safe to install?" and "So. Many. Bugs." 

This could explain why, according to 9to5Mac and others, Apple is considering its first public beta for the operating system with version 8.3. Selected members of its AppleSeed program will be part of the lucky group who gets a first glimpse at the platform. This will reportedly begin with iOS 8.3, code-named Stowe, around the middle of this month and continue with a public beta for iOS 9, expected sometime this summer. 

To some, this could seem like an attempt by Apple to adopt more common industry best practices about including customers in the earlier stages of a product lifecycle. Given the propensity for glitches with a platform update, having additional eyes (and thumbs) on an operating system at least opens the possibility of better security and performance. However, public betas also come in many shapes and sizes, with those that are essentially open to anyone and those limited to developers and similar ecosystem players. If the rumors of a public iOS beta are true, Apple will need to clarify some of the boundary lines of its process. 

There is also some question about how Apple will integrate whatever feedback it gets through a public beta program. For all its public statements about putting customers at the center of everything it creates, Apple has a long history of essentially ignoring whatever it disagrees with and puts out technology it believes users should want. (The fact that it has often been right does not make it any more annoying to a range of its critics.) A public beta implies some degree of greater dialogue between manufacturer and customer, but Apple will be careful not to over-inflate expectations in this regard. 

That said, Apple isn't the only one who could benefit from a public beta of iOS. App developers creating software for iPhones and iPads can also use the sneak peek to engage in earlier discussions with users they trust about what they like, what they don't and how they can optimize accordingly. Imagine if a public beta had been available for iOS 8. Think about how better prepared developers would have been to adapt to the new look and feel of the OS and create a richer user experience from the very beginning. 

As much as firms like Google are associated with the notion of "perpetual beta," most users want a product that's tried and true. That's why a good public beta is a finite beta--one that informs and improves the design. It may be a mistake to think Apple is changing its approach in this regard for all future releases, but even if it's just an experiment, developers should collaborate with their own users on how to take advantage of it.--Shane