How to Sign Up for Apple's iOS Public Beta Program

Apple Public Beta Program
image copyright Apple Inc.
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While Apple officially releases new versions of the iOS in the Fall—usually September—there's a way you can get the latest version on your iPhone months early (and for free, though iOS updates are always free). It's called Apple's Beta Software Program and it allows you to start using the next-gen software right now. But it's not all good news; read on to find out what this program entails, whether it's right for you, and how to sign up.

What Is a Public Beta?

In the world of software development, a beta is the name given to a pre-release version of an app or operating system. A beta is software at a somewhat advanced stage of development, with the basic features in place, but some things left to do, such as finding and fixing bugs, improving speed and responsiveness, and generally polishing the product.

Traditionally, beta software is distributed only within the company that's developing it or to a trusted set of beta testers. The beta testers work with the software, try to discover problems and bugs, and report back to the developers to help them improve the product.

A public beta is slightly different. Instead of limiting the beta tester group to internal staff or small groups, it puts the software out to the general public and allows them to use and test it. This greatly expands the amount of testing that's done, which leads in turn to better software.

Apple has been running a public beta program for Mac OS X since Yosemite. On July 9, 2015, it began running public betas for the iOS, starting with iOS 9. Apple released the first iOS 10 beta on Thursday, July 7, 2016.

What Are The Risks of the Public Beta?

While the idea of getting hot new software months before it's released is exciting, it's important to understand that public betas are not suited for all users.

Betas, by definition, have bugs in them—many, many more bugs than an official release does. This means that you're likely to run into more crashes, more features and apps that don't work properly, and potentially even data loss.

It's also tricky to return to the previous version once you've installed the beta of the next version. It's not impossible, of course, but you need to be comfortable with things like restoring your phone to factory settings, restoring from backup, and other big maintenance tasks.

When you install beta software, you have to do so with the understanding that the trade-off for early access is that things may not go well. If that's too risky for you—and it will be for a lot of people, especially those who rely on their iPhones for work—wait for the Fall and the official release.

Sign Up for the iOS Public Beta

If, after reading these warnings, you're still interested in the public beta, here's how you sign up.

  1. Begin by going to Apple's Beta Software Program website
  2. If you already have an Apple ID, you'll be able to use it. If not, create one.
  3. Once you've got an Apple ID, click on the Sign Up button
  4. Sign in with your Apple ID
  5. Agree to the terms of the beta program and click Accept
  1. Then go to the Enroll Your Device page
  2. On this page, follow the instructions for creating and archiving a backup of your iPhone in its current state and download the profile that lets you install the iOS 10 public beta
  3. When that's done, on your iPhone go to Settings -> General -> Software Update and the iOS 10 public beta should be available to you. Download and install it like you would any other iOS update.