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Apple Betas: Now the Public Has a Chance

When I wrote yesterday’s column, I really expected that Apple would wait until the next beta release of macOS Sierra and iOS 10 to make the public betas available. Well, they didn’t. They came out on July 7th, as hundreds of thousands of people were able to download prerelease versions of the two operating systems.

While these releases, which I presume are all or mostly the same as the second developer betas released earlier this week, are more robust and snappier than the original release, they are nothing to trifle with. The entire operation of your device depends on the OS doing its thing properly. If things go wrong, you can lose data, or, at the very least, find it difficult or impossible to do routine tasks.

At the very least, if you’re going to try a public beta, you should take precautions. Have a backup of your stuff, and try not to install macOS Sierra and iOS 10 on production gear. Some of my readers have older devices to test software on, so that they don’t have to worry if they have to wipe out their data and start over.

Now even if you already have OS X El Capitan or iOS 9 installed, that’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to run these betas.

So for macOS Sierra, you need the following:

iMac: Late 2009 or newer
MacBook: Late 2009 or newer
MacBook Air: Late 2010 or newer
MacBook Pro: Mid 2010 or newer
Mac mini: Mid 2010 or newer
Mac Pro: Mid 2010 or newer

That may seem restrictive when you consider that El Capitan worked on other Macs from 2007 through 2009. But it’s likely some of the new features, particularly Siri, aren’t compatible. At least all of my Macs, going back to a Mid 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro, will run macOS Sierra. Lucky me I suppose.

When it comes to iOS 10, the list is, again, more restrictive than iOS 9:

iPhone

iPad

iPod

So my iPhones and my wife’s iPad will run just fine. My sister-in-law has a third generation iPad, which already drags with iOS 9. She is as far from a power user as you can get, so she will miss little or nothing in never being able to upgrade to a newer OS except for maintenance fixes for iOS 9, if there are any.

Now I suppose some Apple customers — and Apple critics — will attack Apple for the reduced lists of compatible hardware. It’s five or six years for macOS Sierra, and three years, more or less, for iOS gear. In the scheme of things, that’s a fairly wide list, and, other than the last couple of years, a more extensive list than Apple’s norm.

Still, there will be charges that Apple has restricted the list of gear that will run the new operating systems not to deliver a good user experience, but to force you to upgrade. On the surface, there may be a point to such complaints. After all, iPad sales are down, and it appears people are keeping their gear longer. So if suddenly forced to upgrade to continue to use the latest and greatest OS, perhaps they will be more inclined to buy new iPads. Maybe.

When it comes to iPhones, that’s not as clear-cut. Most people reportedly upgrade after two years, so getting an extra year of support for a new OS might not have as great an impact. Maybe.

Obviously your gear doesn’t suddenly stop working because the OS is outdated. If you like the way it works now, you can continue to use it that way. Most app developers will continue to offer backwards compatibility to a somewhat older OS release. At some point in time, that may change, but nobody forces you to stop using the app either because a new version is available.

It’s also true that, if you use the oldest compatible gear, it’s likely not going to perform the way you expect. Consider the plight of the iPhone 4s user who upgraded to iOS 9, or the iPad 3 user for that matter. Although it got better as maintenance updates appeared, performance was measurably slower than iOS 8.

Is that part of the great Apple plot to force you to buy new stuff, or just a symptom if adding features that require more CPU and graphics horsepower to work properly? Should Apple hold off developing new features because older gadgets can’t use them? That would seriously slow advancements in the platform. To be blunt, it’s illogical!

With Google the situation is considerably different. Due to rampant platform fragmentation, only a tiny percentage of devices can be updated to a new OS, ever. The most popular Android operating systems are two and three years old. Last year’s Android 6 Marshmallow still has a market share low enough to be in the “Other” category.

That said, it may be a little early for you to consider trying out the new public betas from Apple. Give them a little time unless you’re fully prepared to take chances, and fully prepared to deal with the consequences if things go bad. But the features are interesting enough that it’s worth a try if you observe the proper cautions.