Apple intends to offer a public beta program for iOS 8.3 and iOS 9, starting in March and this summer respectively, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. The move makes sense in light of Mac OS X’s public beta program, which debuted last year and offered a select group of users (Apple said it had room for one million participants in the program) access to Yosemite ahead of its public launch.
TechCrunch has heard previously that Apple might consider such a move if the OS X program proved successful, so it makes sense that they would pursue a similar course of action on the mobile software side. Apple’s decision to make a public beta channel of releases available for OS X (which differ from its Developer Preview builds, which are more prone to include bugs) stemmed from a desire to have more pre-launch feedback, both in terms of sheer sample size, and in terms of getting it in the hands of people who would more closely resemble the bulk of the population using the final consumer release in terms of habits, practices and needs.
The thinking was that more eyes on the pre-launch software, trying more things that ordinary people would be doing with their Macs on a daily basis would lead to greater stability in the final shipping software. And OS X provided a great test bed – while the Mac user population is strong, it’s nowhere near as massive as the iOS user base, and the scrutiny on future software among both competitors and the media is far less intense. OS X presented a relatively safe space to try out a public beta test, and if the benefits outweigh the negatives, it makes all the sense in the world to try to bring that to iOS, too.
iOS has drawn criticism from some for bugginess in recent releases, and a larger pre-launch test pool could definitely help address that. Apple also looks poised to add plenty to its mobile OS in upcoming releases, including wireless CarPlay support, a rumored new streaming music service based on Beats tech and ample stability and reliability fixes coming in iOS 9, so this would seem like a logical time to get more help in pre-launch testing.
9to5Mac says that the iOS beta program will be launched to a limited group of only 100,000 non-developer testers, which would be a far smaller segment than is allowed into the OS X beta program. Again, the stakes are higher here, which could account for the need for a more tightly controlled group, but any pre-launch access will inevitably change the way Apple’s upcoming software is covered and discussed, so it’ll be interesting to see how Apple’s media strategy shifts if this proves true.