Apple announced watchOS 3 with a long list of changes, updates, new features, and improvements over the previous version, watchOS 2.x. watchOS 1 wasn’t really known until watchOS 2.x came out and that led me to an obvious conclusion.
Apple Watch users are beta testers. That’s right. Watch has been on the market for over a year. The first version of watchOS (which wasn’t really called that) was the alpha version; the earliest adopter. watchOS 2.x, which is in use now, is a beta version. Apple is using customers as beta testers.
What Does ‘Beta’ Mean?
To be fair to my conclusion and software development in general, I’ll admit that all software is something of a work in progress; always improving, always iterating, never perfect. That’s the nature of software, so the term ‘beta’ can be applied almost anywhere during the development cycle.
I found a definition for beta test which seems to apply to watchOS.
Second level, external pilot-test of a product (usually a software) before commercial quantity production. At the beta test stage, the product has already passed through the first-level, internal pilot-test (alpha test) and glaring defects have been removed. But (since the product may still have some minor problems that require user participation) it is released to selected customers for testing under normal, everyday conditions of use to spot the remaining flaws.
From that perspective, I concluded that the first watchOS, the one that shipped when Watch shipped, was the Alpha version. The beta version, watchOS 2.x, is the one that ships on Watch now. The release version of watchOS 3, the one that is truly the commercial production version, arrives later this year.
That means Watch customers are beta testers.
One can argue the ‘beta tester’ definition and its applications, but there’s little doubt that the first version of any new software– including an operating system– is in need of bug fixing and feature adjustments upon release. Why? That’s the nature of software. It’s a dynamic, ongoing evolution of features, tweaks, fixes, and that means most software truly, madly, deeply needs to be used by real world customers before a formal release.
Apple has adopted a public preview of various applications and operating systems in recent years, making them available first to developers for testing their apps, then to the general public (with a requirement to sign up so Apple is not liable for any problems such ‘beta’ software might cause) so many more tens or hundreds of thousands of users can try an app or OS before the initial release.
That’s fair enough, and crowdsourcing new apps or OS’s helps Apple track, find, and fix major bugs and make interface and feature tweaks and fixes that benefit every customer. Watch and watchOS is merely a blatant example. The initial interface had problems. Apps were slow and cumbersome to use on watchOS 1 and watchOS 2, with notable improvements in performance and UI set to arrive in the next version, which some critics would call Version 1.
I agree. But I’m not upset about it. That’s how software works, so early adopters to apps and OS’s need to understand the implied agreement of software in the 21st century.
We’re all beta testers.