iOS 10, macOS Sierra Public Betas Released

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Apple released public betas of iOS 10 and macOS Sierra this week, providing early access to those willing to put up with bugs and instability.

Apple's latest operating systems, iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, are available to download for free from the iPhone and Mac maker's website. The betas, unfinished previews really, are unstable and buggy, but let the general public test the newest software features months before the platforms are released to everyone. There is a bit of risk involved, but to some, the rewards may be worth the effort.

The public betas of iOS 10 and macOS Sierra arrived Thursday -- a day after Apple pushed out new betas through its developer channel. Developers have been testing iOS 10 and macOS Sierra for several weeks.

The arrival of the public betas implies that the core code is stable enough for more widespread testing. To get them, head to beta.apple.com, sign in with your Apple ID, agree to the terms, register your device(s), and then download.

Apple spells out the risks clearly. "The iOS 10 [and macOS Sierra] beta is still in development, which means some applications and services may not work as expected and their data may not be backwards compatible." Apple strongly recommends beta testers back up their iPhone, iPad, and Mac before proceeding.

Apple more gently reminds beta testers that the betas are, in fact, meant to help Apple refine iOS 10 and macOS Sierra ahead of their general releases. "To help Apple improve the quality and performance of its software and services, the iOS 10/macOS public betas automatically send anonymous diagnostic and usage data to Apple," explained the company. "This includes information about crashes, freezes, kernel panics, and information about how you use Apple and third-party software, hardware, and services."

Beta testers worried about privacy can turn off the automatic submission of diagnostic data if they wish, but that sort of defeats the spirit of the public betas. Both the iOS 10 and macOS Sierra betas come with a built-in Feedback Assistant app. The tool is meant to let people send direct feedback to Apple concerning bugs, issues, or other problems.

Why bother? Because cool new stuff, that's why.

iOS 10 includes a dramatically redesigned lock screen that allows users to access far more information than before. Notifications are more interactive, and the control center is more manageable. Many core apps are getting a fresh look. For example, Apple Music and Apple News have been overhauled to improve usability, and Google Photos gains facial recognition.

Perhaps the biggest change in iOS 10 is its new level of openness from Apple. Apple has opened Siri, iMessage, and Maps up to third-party developers. Siri integration is key, and will make the digital assistant far more powerful thanks to its new ability to talk to non-Apple apps. iMessage now behaves more like competing messaging apps from WhatsApp and Snapchat with the addition of stickers, emoji, rich links, and inline videos.

[Read iOS 10 Makes It Easier to Be an Organ Donor.]

Apple's desktop platform has changed names from OS X to macOS. The update chiefly hones the continuity experience between Mac computers and iOS devices. Apple Watch owners will, for example, be able to unlock their PC from their wearable, a universal clipboard makes it possible to copy text on an iPhone and paste it on a Mac, and Apple Pay will expand to the web. macOS Sierra also, for the first time, brings Siri to the desktop.

How stable are they? I've been using iOS 10 in beta since Day 1. There's no question these are the most stable betas I've seen from Apple. iOS 10 Developer Preview Beta 2 -- which is the same as iOS 10 Public Beta 1 -- is definitely stable enough for testing but probably not on your daily driver. If you have a spare iPad or iPhone gathering dust in a drawer, I'd recommend you check them out. I'd advise against installing these current betas on your main phone or tablet.

I have yet to test macOS Sierra in beta, but following a similar course of action is your best bet. In other words, if you have a spare Mac or secondary machine that you don't use often, you'd do well to try the beta on it rather than your primary machine.

Not convinced the betas are worth a go? No worries. Apple is expected to release stable versions in September.

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