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A Reality Check About the Next iOS and macOS

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.