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PSA: If you're not a developer, don't install developer betas on your iPhone

We warned you two years ago in the months before iOS 5 went live. Some of you didn't listen. Actually, if the TUAW inbox over the past few days is any indication, a lot of you didn't listen.

It seems a review is overdue.

Answer these two questions really quickly:

  1. Are you a developer?
  2. Are you running the iOS 7 beta?

If you answered no to the first question and yes to the second, then this post is meant for you.You are doing it wrong, and on behalf of everyone everywhere, please stop.

We've been receiving tons of messages every day from people reporting bugs and other odd behavior in the iOS 7 beta. Pundits and other persons of questionable intelligence are excoriating Apple for the iOS 7 beta's performance issues and tendency to be crash-prone.

Just stop. Stop.

Non-developers shouldn't be toying with iOS betas. Apple's beta software is really, really beta. I've installed and run beta versions of iOS every year since 2009, and let me tell you, it's an eye-opener to spend roughly three months each year having your iOS devices crashing left and right, with many third-party apps completely broken -- including some you've come to depend upon. If you're used to the usually rock-solid performance of IOS and OS X, running a developer beta on your device is a sobering peek into the world of Apple software before it's deemed ready for prime time.

What Apple calls "beta" is what most other developers would call "alpha" -- software never intended for use by the general public, released only to small numbers of (hopefully) knowledgable people for testing purposes.

If you want to look for an Apple example of "beta" software as almost everyone else defines it (including Google), look at the public release of just about any brand-new version of OS X. The 10.x.0 release of OS X is almost always riddled with bugs, inconsistencies, etc., and Apple usually pushes out a 10.x.1 update within a few weeks to address those. More cautious/paranoid Mac users often avoid upgrading to the next version of OS X until the .1 release for that very reason.

The iOS x.0 public release software is usually pretty stable, but that's only because it's been preceded by months of testing on millions of units. iOS betas themselves, especially the first few releases, are often about as stable as a drunken unicyclist. Sometimes this goes beyond app crashes and general instability -- sometimes, iOS betas can be so bug-riddled that the basic, core functionality of the device simply doesn't work worth a damn until the next release comes out.

Developers know and understand these perils of beta software. Non-developers usually don't, so support forums get flooded with messages from irritated-to-irate users wondering why their formerly rock-solid device is suddenly crashing every time they try to load more than three tabs in Safari, or why the Music app crashes and burns every five minutes.

Then there's the people who flood the App Store with negative ratings for apps that are "broken" in an iOS beta. App Store reviews aren't the place to file bug reports, and developers can't be expected to know beforehand whether beta software -- which no one leaving App Store reviews should be running in the first place -- will break their apps.

Your negative reviews on the App Store are hurting the very developers whose help you're demanding. Stop it.

Now an admission: I'm not an iOS developer, but I'm running the iOS 7 beta on my iPhone. Even though I'm not actively involved in writing apps, however, I still paid the $99 fee and installed the beta because I have an excuse -- it's my job to know what Apple's up to, even if the NDA prevents me from telling the rest of you about it until the official launch.

That said, I also go out of my way to educate myself about the potential pitfalls of running beta software on my equipment. After running betas of iOS 3, 4, 5, and 6, I knew full well what to expect in iOS 7. When my iPhone spontaneously reboots every five minutes after enabling a panoramic wallpaper, or when some of my favorite apps just flat out do not work after installing the beta, I shrug it off and hope the bugs are addressed in the next beta version. I don't pester third-party app developers, I don't inundate Apple's support forums whining about how my iPhone is suddenly about as stable as the average Windows machine, and I definitely don't write a brain-dead article about how Apple has lost its edge in software development because its beta software is buggy.

I know you non-devs are curious about trying out the new features in iOS 7, especially since it's such a radical design change from iOS 6. I sympathize. I also know at least some of you are motivated by the "first kid on my block to have it" mentality. But you know the old saying about curiosity killing the cat? Running iOS beta releases on your hardware won't kill your cat, but it'll make it seem like the thing is running all over your house with a string of cans tied to its tail -- for three months.

If your livelihood doesn't depend on running the iOS 7 beta, then for your own sake and ours, just let it be. If you don't know how to restore your iPhone or iPad's firmware without looking it up on Google first, just don't do it at all.

If you're not prepared for a subpar experience involving bugs, crashes, app incompatibilities, weird UI behaviors, unfinished or even half-baked features, and truly terrible battery life, then give iOS 7 a miss until the public launch, when Apple will (hopefully) have all the bugs squashed.

If you don't understand the concept that iOS betas have an expiration date, and you must keep pace with the current betas if you want your hardware to continue functioning, then don't run iOS 7.

In short, if you're not prepared for your Apple hardware to behave in a very un-Apple way for months at a stretch, then in the name of all that is holy, leave the betas alone.

NB: This post is a slightly reworked version of an earlier post from 2011. Given the general uproar over the iOS 7 developer beta, it seemed like a re-post was in order.



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Developer iPhone

We warned you two years ago in the months before iOS 5 went live. Some of you didn't listen. Actually, if the TUAW inbox over the past...