Back when betas were private

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 2 min read

I have been furiously tweeting screenshots, videos, and my impressions of the iOS 11 and watchOS 4 betas over the past couple weeks, and at one point I paused and thought "wait, should I be doing this?" to myself. Obviously I'm fine and my Apple developer account remains in good standing, but the feeling hit me because the free sharing of sweet, sweet beta information is not something we have always been able to do.

For many years, all Apple developers were required to agree to what was essentially an NDA where they would not talk about anything in beta software or developer sessions that wasn't shared in the public keynote. That sounds crazy today, as there is a whole cottage industry of people who pick these betas apart and freely share every nitty gritty detail on YouTube. But back not that many years ago, it was just something most developers wouldn't do.

I remember an episode of MacBreak Weekly1 where Andy Ihnatko was talking about a new iOS feature, and he stalled for a few moments to pull up a story on some Apple news site to make sure what he was about to talk about had been made public before talking about it himself. Andy's a classy guy, so I'm not surprised he adhered to the rules, but even your average podcast host behaved the same, as did most people on social media. Now of course there were always people who either didn't care about their standing with Apple, or those who got their betas through less-than legitimate means, who would take to the internet and reveal everything they could, but they were the minority. And honestly, Apple didn't really crack down on this too much, but pissing off Apple has never been a particularly good idea.

Part of the reason I got my first Apple developer account (which I could only afford with my tax return that year) was because I wanted to be on the inside track. I wanted to know all the details of what Apple was working on, and the easiest way to do that really well was to have the beta myself. Sure, I could browse the MacRumors forums to learn more, but it wasn't nearly as convenient. Today we have public betas, and developer betas that are easy enough to install on any device, whether you're a developer or not2. Or you could just search Twitter and see tons of screenshots and videos of everything.

And Apple is totally cool with all of this! Well, maybe not the non-developers installing the developer betas, but everything else. Ever since the iOS 8 beta, Apple has basically said that anything you want to share is fine with them. Think about all the new iPad Pro reviews that are going up this week and have reviewers gushing about how great iOS 11 makes these devices. That's amazing press for Apple, and it's fantastic that they have decided to let people do their marketing for them all summer while they work on nailing everything down for September.

  1. I'll never be able to find the exact episode, but trust me this happened. 
  2. I'm not linking to any of them, but there are guides out there.