A new Mac App Store! Dark Mode! Desktop Stacks! Group FaceTime! Dick Tracy mode for your Apple Watch! It’s WWDC day, and Apple revealed plenty of new features for its various platforms this morning. (No, you’re not getting more free iCloud space, and yes, your Macbook Pro keyboard still sucks.)
The best way to get your hands on everything Apple announced today, as soon as it’s available for the general public, is to volunteer to help Apple beta test its operating systems.
(You can also plunk down $149 to become an Apple developer and receive even earlier access to operating system betas. I actually know Apple fans who do this – ones who have no intention or interest in actually making an app. Most people shouldn’t buy betas, so I’m not going to go into any more detail on this option, but know that it is an option if you’re an Apple enthusiast.)
Will a beta wreck my device?
Testing an operating system that Apple is still polishing is slightly scary, because running a beta version of an OS always carries the risk that a bug will turn your device into a paperweight (or, at least, a much slower device).
I’m just an army of one, but I have been running beta versions of Apple’s operating systems on my Apple devices for as long as I can remember. And while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, I can’t remember the last time I encountered a critical slowdown or device-breaking bug. In fact, I can’t recall ever having a catastrophic issue with Apple’s beta software, unless you count “sometimes the notification ding sounds weird” as disastrous.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, or that you won’t experience this yourself, but it’s a single, tiny data point that keeps me enrolled in Apple’s software betas – for now.
And the payoff? Help Apple by running betas of macOS and iOS, and you’ll be able to play with new features – such as Messages in iCloud, which recently debuted (officially) with the recent launches of of iOS 11.4 and macOS 10.13.5 – and probably be able to download the final, public versions of major OS updates (such as iOS 12) a week or so before everyone else.
That maybe isn’t something worth writing about in your annual holiday letter, but it’s always fun to have the hottest new features before everyone else. Impress a date with your pretty new Memoji.
How to sign up for beta updates for your iPhone and iPad
- Back up your iPhone. Your device should send regular backups over to iCloud, but you can trigger this manually by tapping on Settings, tapping on your name or Apple ID icon (the first section that appears), tapping on iCloud, scrolling down to iCloud Backup (and tapping on it), and then tapping on the “Back Up Now” link. If you don’t use iCloud to back up your device, connect it to your laptop or desktop and perform a backup via iTunes instead.
- Get out your iPhone, fire up Safari, visit Apple’s Beta Software Program website, and sign in with your Apple ID (or create one, if you don’t have one for whatever reason).
- Look for the “enroll your iOS device” link and tap on it.
- Scroll down to the “Download Profile” section and click on the blue “Download profile” icon. Tap on “Allow” in the pop-up window that appears to allow your Settings app to load Apple’s beta configuration profile.
- Tap on “Install” in the upper-right corner, authenticate into your device, and tap on the “Install” link in the upper-right corner one more time. And then tap on the “Install” popover that appears at the bottom of your device.
- When your device indicates that a restart is required, tap on “Restart” to do that. Wait a few minutes.
- When you authenticate back into your iPhone, tap on Settings, scroll down and tap on General, and then tap on Software Update to grab the latest beta version of iOS.
How to sign up for beta updates for your Apple Watch
This one’s easy: You can’t. Apple doesn’t release public betas of watchOS, as there’s no way to downgrade the device if things go wrong. If you’re on a developer account (as in, you’re paying Apple for a developer account), Apple provides simple instructions for how to download and install a watchOS beta. Spoiler: The process is pretty similar to installing a beta on your iPhone or iPad.
How to sign up for beta updates for your Mac
- Back up your Mac for the same reasons as your iPhone or iPad – in case the beta wrecks your system, you’ll want to have a recent system restore at the ready. I (and Apple) recommend a Time Machine backup but, at the very least, make sure you recently ran whatever backup plan you use for your critical files. (Reinstalling macOS isn’t that hard, but you definitely don’t want to lose any data if you can’t boot into the operating system any more, for example.)
- Fire up Safari and go visit Apple’s Beta Software Program website. Sign in with your Apple ID (or create one, and then sign in).
- Look for the “enroll your Mac” link and click on that.
- Scroll down to the “Enroll your Mac” section and click on the blue “Download the macOS Public Beta Access Utility” icon. A file will download to your computer, and it won’t take very long. Once done, double-click on it, install the package like you would any other downloaded application, and pull up the App Store once it’s done (if it doesn’t load for you automatically).
- Once you’re in the App Store, click on Updates and install the latest macOS public beta, if it appears.
How to sign up for beta updates for your Apple TV
Confession: I don’t have an Apple TV, so I haven’t actually gone through this process myself. However, Apple spells it out pretty plainly on its website, and it’s an easy process to go through on your device.
- First, head on over to beta.apple.com and sign in with the Apple ID you use on your Apple TV – if you haven’t already asked to join Apple’s beta program, that is. Accept whatever agreements Apple wants and close your browser once you’re done.
- Turn on your Apple TV and pull up your Settings app, and then go to the Accounts section. Sign in using your Apple ID in whatever manner you’d typically use to log in – iCloud, iTunes and App Store, or Game Center).
- From there, back on out to the main Settings screen and go select the System option, and then Software Update. Make sure you flick the switch for “Get Beta Updates”, and then select Update Software to check for anything new.