Apple’s OS schedule this year is pretty much the same as last year’s. Developers have already received real early beta versions of iOS 11, macOS High Sierra, tvOS 11 and watchOS 4. A few weeks later, regular Apple customers should be able to share in the joy; well, except for watchOS 4. The Apple TV OS is being offered via the public beta program for the first time.
A key reason why watchOS isn’t offered is, if you get into trouble, you’d have to ship your Apple Watch back to Apple to set things right, maybe replace it. But that doesn’t mean you should be cavalier about running beta operating systems on your other Apple gear. It can be fun, but it can also be downright infuriating, because there may be all sorts of bugs, discovered and otherwise, waiting to bite.
With iOS 11, if you must revert back to the previous version, it’s tricky. You’d have to download the installer file for your device from a third-party source to restore it. It’s not difficult, but if you use your iPhone or iPad for actually doing something, you may just want to sit it out for a while.
It can be worse with your Mac. This year, Apple is releasing a new file system, Apple File System or APFS, with High Sierra. There are some known problems, and this is the sort of thing that can damage your drive’s directory, and thus has the potential of wiping your data. That’s before you get to any problems with the OS itself and Apple’s installed apps.
While some developers will rush preliminary High Sierra updates for their products, others may wait until the final release or shortly before to make sure they are testing their apps against the version that will ship to everyone. Changes along the way can make for moving targets, thus stretching a developer’s resources to keep up. Some might not even bother until there’s a final release, and maybe not until the first bug fix update.
Now I realize I have to stay abreast of current technology, so I will run the betas, after a while, but with a sense of caution. In the old days, I always had a spare Mac or iPhone at hand to use as a test instrument. But I no longer have the luxury — or resources — to buy extra gear.
With my iPhone, I can certainly restore it, using the unofficial workaround above. But I won’t even bother to try iOS 11 until I’m confident that it is reasonably reliable. With iOS 10, it didn’t take long. With the earliest betas, apps crashed a lot, but I put up with it for the most part and persevered.
Before I installed the beta, however, I made a backup with iTunes just in case. iCloud is a perfect substitute.
With my iMac, I can use an external drive to store the beta OS. Or just create a second partition on the startup drive for testing. I will be extra careful, though, with APFS, and strictly rely on another drive if I want to give it a whirl.
Last year, Sierra took a while to settle down. I had it running on a second partition, and I couldn’t even properly install a couple of the early versions and updates.
Finally I decided to go for it. I made a full clone backup, combined my iMac’s two partitions, and installed a late beta of Sierra. The weeks of caution paid off, as the final releases were stable enough to actually get work done and still enjoy the new features.
But that’s highly unpredictable.
I did notice that there’s now a beta version of Carbon Copy Cloner, my current preferred backup tool, with preliminary support for APFS. That’s encouraging.
But my best recommendation, based on several decades of loyal and sometimes exasperated beta testing, is to hold off installing anything until you check the tech sites (we didn’t have that option in the old days) and see what others are encountering. I’ll let you know how things are working for me as I proceed through the process.
If it doesn’t seem stable to you, or the apps you want to run won’t work, or barely work, nothing is lost in leaving well enough alone. When the new operating systems are stable enough for release — and that’ll probably happen beginning in mid-September — you can prepare to install them.
That said, I’m looking forward to the new operating systems for different reasons. With High Sierra, there’s are lots of improvements to Safari, which has been my preferred browser for years. I appreciate the fact that those annoying autoplay videos won’t play unless I want them to. Maybe the people who run such sites as CNN, HuffPost, USA Today and, yes, Macworld, will take the hint. APFS interests me too, mostly for its potential of improved performance and reliability.
I also hope Apple takes the occasion to clean up some of Safari’s notorious memory hogging bugs.
Since I’ve been advocating for better productivity capabilities on the iPad, particularly improved multitasking, and direct access to the file system, I’m anxious to give iOS 11 a try. It doesn’t mean I will suddenly adopt an iPad to do my work, unless Apple has quietly changed the conditions of its sandboxing scheme to allow for apps to record and mix audio streams from other apps. We’ll see what’s possible.
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