No, it’s not the one who slaves over new devices or software features in a technology company somewhere in Silicon Valley. Beta testers once suffered in silence. Today, customers are beta testers and among the highest public profiles are the testers not employed by Apple; they’re customers.
Alpha, Beta, Customer
In a previous life, back around the turn of the century, I was employed in the airline industry and witnesses how costs were reduced simply by shedding the commissions airlines once paid to travel agencies. Thanks to the efficiencies of online ticket sales, most of the major airlines did reduced their cost of sales by reducing discounts and commissions.
In a way, Apple has learned the same thing by introducing some products long before they were ready for prime time. Apple co-founder and then CEO Steve Jobs was famous for sending products back to the drawing board because they were not ready. These days Apple’s customers are the beta testers for designs that look good and have much potential, but are not quite ready for the masses.
The original iPhone was buggy and slow but had promise beyond anything on the market a decade ago. Today’s beta products include Apple Watch. True, it’s not easy to make a good smartwatch and Apple was not the first kid on the block, but the first one to make a device that was fashionable and usable. But the software was a beta product not ready for prime time.
That public beta testing is a phenomenon that Apple has embraced. Microsoft did much the same thing with Windows and Office public beta tests and we see Apple doing it now with iOS and macOS and watchOS. Why? There are enough customers willing to try out new versions of software, and the testing methodology has become so automated that the company can improve software faster if it has more beta testers.
Or, at least, that’s the general idea. Some of us are hardware beta testers who pay for the privilege of testing new Apple products before they’re adopted by the great unwashed masses of the company’s billion or so customers.
That new MacBook Pro that we love so well, not all that much? It was packed with problems, especially around the new Touch Bar. Watch? The first was slow and underpowered to the point of anemic. The latest, Watch Series 2 and watchOS 3.x should have been the first release. Apple has become more calculating about what it can get away with and public beta testing is all the rage these days, so why not?
This kind of give and take has been the bedrock of technology gadgets from the beginning of digital time, but is more public today. Apple courts software beta testers for each new product or upgrade and there are enough of us willing to try that it’s worth it to Apple to take some public grief to improve the product over a period of acceptable time.
Remember Apple Maps? A totally beta product. Remember the massive changes in iOS. Another totally beta product. Apple’s A.B.C.’s these days are alpha (internal), beta (public), and customer; the masses who buy products once they’ve reached useful and predictable status.
I have an original Watch, a MacBook Pro, Apple TV (4th get), and AirPods and I feel more like an Apple beta tester than ever before.
Am I grumbling about Apple’s ability to enlist paying customers to beta test new products? Yes. Will I stand in line for another? Yes. Why?
“My name is Jack. I’m a beta tester.”