Ask LH: Should I Install The iOS 9 And OS X El Capitan Betas?

Ask LH: Should I Install The iOS 9 And OS X El Capitan Betas?
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Dear Lifehacker, I’m not a developer or anything, but I’m really excited about the new improvements in iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan. Is it safe to install the betas for them? What’s the experience going to be like if I do? Thanks, Bleeding Edgar

Dear BE,

Ever since the announcements back in June, we’ve been pretty stoked about both iOS 9 and El Capitan too. However, as with most of Apple’s betas, it’s pretty hard to recommend that anyone who isn’t a developer check them out, even if they are called public betas. Let’s start with iOS 9 before moving onto El Capitan.

iOS 9

Over the years, Apple has repeatedly shown us that installing beta versions of iOS is always a bad idea. They’re buggy, unstable, hard to use, drain your battery life and make a bunch of your apps unusable. iOS 9 is no different.

As a general recommendation, it’s a bad idea to install a beta operating system on any device you use daily. This is especially the case with your phone, which you use for all kinds of things. In the case of iOS 9, you’ll likely lose the ability to use a handful of your favorite apps and your phone will be a bit clunky to use. We haven’t had too much trouble so far, but some apps, including popular ones like Twitter, have had trouble.

More importantly, there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about iOS 9. The new Notes app is fine, but not worth the trouble of upgrading. The same goes for the new Siri features and ad-blocker functionality. Basically, all you’ll get are a handful of cool, but not revolutionary features, which isn’t really worth destroying your battery life for.

However, if you have a secondary device, the beta is pretty stable all things considered. So, if you have something like an iPad that you don’t use terribly often, you can safely check out the beta without too much worry. Plus, you’ll get that cool new multitasking view on the iPad, which is arguably the biggest improvement in iOS 9.

If you decide it’s just too buggy for you, you can go back to iOS 8.4, but it’ll take a little bit of work. Downgrading will erase all the data on your device and set it up fresh install, so make sure you’re prepared for that:

  1. Download the iOS 8.4 IPSW file for your device (you can find a list of direct links here)
  2. Put your phone in recovery mode: Turn the phone off, plug it into your computer while holding the Home Button until the device turns on and asks you to connect to iTunes
  3. In iTunes, Option-Click the “Restore iPhone” button, select your IPSW file, and wait for iTunes to install iOS 8 again

After the installation, your iOS device will be back on iOS 8, but all you data will be gone, so you’ll need to wait for it to sync again.

El Capitan

Apple’s a relatively careful company when it comes to their desktop operating systems, so while bugs are certainly in the public beta, they’re probably not going destroy your system. Still, public beta or not, it’s still a beta product, so don’t expect it to work smoothly.

All that said, El Capitan isn’t a huge update. Gizmodo runs down the features here, and if there’s nothing screaming out to you that you need right now, it’s best to just wait for the official release. It’s been stable for us, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see plenty of bugs.

Regardless, if you’re still itching to check out the beta, you should do so on a partition instead of overwriting Yosemite. This way, you can play around and test the new operating system without messing with your computer. Even though you’re installing El Capitan on a new partition, make sure your computer’s backed up. Once you’ve taken care of that, here’s how to partition your drive and install El Capitan safely:

  1. Open Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities).
  2. Select your Mac’s hard drive.
  3. Select the Partition button.
  4. Click the “+” icon and decide how large a partition you want (10-30 GB for El Capitan and a few apps should be fine, depending on how much you plan on using it).
  5. Name your partition and click Apply.
  6. Launch the Yosemite installer.
  7. When prompted to choose a disk, click “Show all disks” and select the partition you just created.

That’s it. OS X El Capitan will get installed on the new partition, and you’ll still have OS X Yosemite for when you want your computer to actually work. You can choose which one to launch by holding Option when you start up your computer.

As we’ve talked about before, life on the bleeding edge can get messy. When software is in beta, it’s not expected to work perfectly by the people who make it, so you shouldn’t expect it to either. All that said, it can be a rewarding experience to get in on betas early if you’re willing to report bugs and deal with the problems. Just make sure you leave yourself an out for when you need your devices to actually work.


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  • I hadn’t considered this as an option previously and settled with Mavericks for my 2011 MBP, are there any issues going through something like this to test Yosemite? I heard it can make things go backwards and prefer not to take that risk.

    Will partitioning affect resale? Is it easily reversible?

    • Partitioning your hard-drive is easy to do and easy to reverse and will not affect “resale value” in the least… e.g; people often run windows or Linux from a partition….

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