The Genius Estimate: Public Beta Is A Bad Idea

With every Apple announcement, any Genius who has spent time on the Genius Bar queue can accurately estimate the volume, type, and difficulty of any potential issues that will result.

I call it the Genius Estimate.

This is not done out of anger or judgment, but comes from having a thumb on the heartbeat of customers, and out of a love to help those who come through the glass doors every day.

Not Just Apple News

It's not limited to Apple announcements. The best example is when Yahoo announced a few years back they were cutting off mobile email access on iOS and forcing customers to use the Yahoo Mail app instead.

The Genius team I was a part of was simply the best, constantly monitoring tech news because 1. they love keeping up with the news and 2. they were constantly scanning for potential issues coming down the pipeline. In short, staying current on tech news made us better at our jobs.

The moment a teammate found out about Yahoo's mail changes, we all knew that for the next few months we would have an unusually high number of customers with Yahoo Mail problems.

We put our heads together, figured out the best solution, and had a plan in place before Yahoo pulled the plug. And we were right — the queue for the next couple of months filled with customers whose Yahoo mail "just stopped working."

Betas for Everyone

Apple just announced that they are opening up the Appleseed Beta program to the public. And I'm kind of pissed about it.

I understand that this benefits Apple. It allows them to have more beta testers, find issues sooner, and develop a more polished OS.

At the expense of their customers.

I know that not everyone with a Mac is going to rush out and install the Mac OS X beta builds, and hopefully only those who understand the consequences will do so. But I have a bad feeling that some people will install the beta software on their primary work machines.

Closed Is Better

One of the reasons so many customers love iOS and Mac OS X so much is the rock solid stability 1. Opening up the beta to the public is asking customers to sacrifice the stability Apple is famous for. This could hurt that reputation.

The only people that need to install beta software are developers. But they already get the betas as a part of the developer program.

I can't figure out the target audience Apple wants to include with this new program. Most Apple fanatics I know gladly pay the $99 for a developer account for the betas alone, even if they aren't developing any software. I am fearful that removing the paywall from the beta builds is the wrong move, opening up the betas to people who have no business using them.

Although I no longer work for Apple, my Genius Estimate instinct is still intact, and it is throwing up red flags for this program — from a support standpoint, I believe the downsides  of this will far outweigh the upsides. I'm imagining the hundreds of customers crippled by buggy beta software, potentially bringing their work to a halt or the most painful scenario — data loss.

Beta Advice

David Sparks wrote some great advice (via Thomas Brand) to those considering joining the program just for kicks. Please read it before you jump onboard.

There is nothing wrong with joining the new beta program as long as you understand what you will be sacrificing. You need to make an informed decision as to whether or not it is worth it for you.

The beta build will be shiny and new, but also buggy and glitchy. Apps you expect to always work are not guaranteed to work anymore. You will get frustrated and will probably want to go back to a stable version.

The only way to roll back is to make sure you do a Time Machine backup before you join the program, do a full wipe and restore to a stable build (about a 2 hour process), and restore your backup (potentially a multi-hour long process). It could cost many hours of time and frustration, and could lead to losing your precious pictures, documents, and other important files.

Godspeed to you if you decide to journey alongside Johnny Appleseed into the public beta program, as long as you understand how deep the rabbit hole can go.

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that I am wrong about the effects this new program will have on customers. But if I listen to my gut, I've got a bad feeling about this.

  1. Could I say, Windows XP levels of stability? Haha :)