A Reality Check About the Next iOS and macOS

July 7th, 2016

As most of you know, Apple launched iOS 10 and macOS Sierra at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June. This is the norm for Apple in recent years. Joined by tvOS 10 and watchOS 3, Apple paraded a wealth of new features meant to entice you to upgrade. Or perhaps buy new gear that would put the new features to better use.

By fall, they will all be available for free download.

If you’re a Mac developer, you had access to the first betas on June 13. Public betas are reportedly due as early as today, as I write this, in keeping with Apple’s tradition in recent years. The second developer betas were released on Tuesday, and reports indicate they are more stable and snappier than the first release of three weeks ago. But this is to be expected two or three months ahead of a final release. By August, things should settle down fairly well.

My normal practice is to upgrade my iPhone with the beta software. In theory, you cannot downgrade or restore to a previous OS version but, of course, you can. Let’s just say I haven’t seen the need and leave it at that.

With a new Mac operating system, my normal practice is to set aside another partition on my iMac’s drive, so it won’t impact my normal work routine. Sometime before the final release, if I’m confident enough in its stability, and the apps I depend on for my work are compatible, I’ll upgrade the computer’s main partition. I also keep backups of my production system on two external drives, plus an online backup. So there will be at worst a minor inconvenience if a flawed update makes it difficult or impossible to go on.

But beta operating systems are nothing to trifle with. They can bring down your Mac or iPhone, making them unusable. Even if they seem reasonably stable, individual apps may not work at all, or, if they do work, not perform at their best, with some features working poorly or not at all. You certainly do not want to run them on a machine that you use for your work. Either way, have an exit strategy in case things go wrong.

My general recommendation is just to be careful and wait until there have been a few releases and the online chatter seems positive. Or you have a spare device to test to your heart’s content without the downsides.

What concerns me, though, is whether Apple is really taking your feedback into account as the OS is being developed. So if your Wi-Fi is flaky, and other users have similar troubles, does Apple consider that problem as the Q&A process continues?

With OS X Yosemite, evidently not. Release after release and the Wi-Fi troubles persisted. But finally Apple replaced a system component and with its predecessor, and the problems evidently went away. This happened towards the end of the development cycle, before El Capitan arrived. So Mac users suffered for a long time.

But you have to wonder: How come Apple’s developers didn’t realize that this problem existed, from release to release?

To be fair, it didn’t happen to me — ever. But I most often have my Mac tethered to a wired Ethernet connection. Even though I obviously receive great Wi-Fi performance two feet from the router, it’s still better on the port. So I’m not the potential victim, but there were potential victims aplenty.

So now we have the structure. Every year, there’s a new OS for all of Apple’s platforms. Every year, you will be given a chance to give it a trial two or three months before its released. But is that all for show, or is Apple going to make a better effort to actually pay attention to the feedback, and do something to deliver a more reliable, robust product?

As to El Capitan, it has been pretty solid for me, mostly. Mail needs some work. For me, with large mailboxes, and hundreds of thousands of messages spread across several accounts, it stalls every day or two. For about 30 seconds or so, nothing works, after which it resumes normal operation. I cannot imagine that I’m the only one on the planet with that problem, though I grant huge amounts of email are stressful for any mail client.

Now I suppose I should be archiving those old messages. There are several apps I ought to try, and I will some day. Maybe if I did, I’d no longer encounter email stalls, but it didn’t happen before El Capitan arrived. More to the point, the current OS X isn’t quite getting the love at the App Store. It earns a total of three stars, but just barely. There are slightly more one-star reviews than five-star reviews. After all this time, you’d think that Apple would have resolved the most serious problems.

With the newly branded macOS Sierra, I hope Apple will really get it together with the new features, that beta tester feedback will actually help Apple produce a more robust release. But this is one hope that probably won’t be realized. Maybe Apple should slow down, as some suggest, and release a new macOS every two years as they did once before.

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3 Responses to “A Reality Check About the Next iOS and macOS”

  1. dfs says:

    There’s one reason why it’s a darned good idea to road test an OS beta (using a partitioned drive, of course): Gene’s right, software does sometimes break because of a new OS fails to support it. You don’t want the unpleasant surprise of upgrading to a new OS and then finding out that important items of your software fail to work. If you have done your own beta testing you will know not to make the upgrade until new, compatible versions of these software items have been released. Or, if no new version is forthcoming, you know you should take a pass on making the upgrade.

  2. DaveD says:

    I kept using OS X Yosemite on a 2012 MacBook Air for 20 months. It was the second OS X I installed on day one. The first OS X was Mavericks and was a very positive experience throughout the year. With Yosemite not going well from the beginning and getting worst, I was going back to waiting for the third update to El Capitan before upgrading.

    An odd thing happened, the first of a series of Safari/Security updates after the fifth update of Yosemite brought back system stability and some memory performance improvements. My Mac did not have a single spontaneous restart for the last eight months. For the first year of Yosemite I had around a grand total of thirty or more spontaneous restarts. I had kept count and it was version 10.10.3 that the total number jumped. It was amazing that I tolerated the system instability for so long because I always had hoped the next update would fix it. The fix came after the final OS update. Methinks the main culprit was Safari.

    As OS X El Capitan 10.11.3 update came along, I stayed with Yosemite. Now that year 2016 is half over, it was time for a clean install of El Capitan. Aside from a few installation issues (iCloud setup again), I was pleasantly surprised after the move from version 10.10.5 to 10.11.5 how nice El Capitan is performing. Being aware of any potential System Integrity Protection issues helped. It is an indicator as to what closer version the true OS “golden master” should be.

  3. dfs says:

    In view of Apple’s “continuous beta” policy, one could almost say that El Capitan IS the Golden Master version of Yosemite.

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