SK Babu


To be, or not to beta

Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

iOS 11 betas are out in the wild, but I have been trying to ignore the incessant chatter. My iPhone is my primary phone, and so why risk crashing it with a self declared beta? Why would I want to act as a free tester for Apple, one of the world’s richest companies?

It’s not like I haven’t tried betas. My experience with iOS 10 beta, where my banking app suddenly stopped working, leaving me penniless till I managed to restore iOS 9, was enough to make me vow off betas on my primary phone.

So a week ago, when Apple send me another email, inviting me to be one of their clueless, unpaid beta testers, I figured that the sensible thing would be to ignore the invitation, and wait a couple of months till iOS 11 was officially launched.

The problem is when faced with a choice between sensible and senseless, I invariably choose senseless. I began thinking about the new customisable control centre, the screen recorder, and the other stuff I had been reading about. In today’s world of instant gratification, two months is a long time to wait for iOS to go live.

So what about my vow to never try a beta? Forget it, what is the fun of making promises if you can’t break them?

And what about the risk of my phone crashing? Actually, I think the old proverb got it wrong. It’s not variety, but risk that’s the spice of life. We humans are genetically programmed to risk everything to taste the forbidden fruit. Adam couldn’t stay away from apple, so isn’t it too much to expect me to resist the temptation of this modern Apple?

Without further thought, I backed up my phone in itunes, and plunged right into the beta seas. A quick sign in to my iCloud account, after which I was asked to download a new profile onto the phone. Once that was done, the install button appeared. I clicked on it, and verified myself on the phone, and a few minutes later, iOS 11 beta was installed. That was quick and so easy that even a child could do it.

I fired up the phone. The first visible difference was the fonts had become thicker. The second was when I clicked a screenshot, a little window of the screen capture dropped down to the bottom of the screen. On tapping it, I was presented with a set of tools to write notes on the screenshot. It’s not a huge feature but quite useful all the same.

The purple flower on my lockscreen gives my lockscreen a weird purply feel

But I had the feeling I had seen this before. Here take a look at a video of the iOS 11 screen capture, and compare it with the screen capture on my Android running MiUI 8.2.1.

iOS 11 beta screen capture feature
Existing MiUI 8.2.1 (Android modified) screen capture

MiUI is the Android version of Xiaomi, the Chinese company who has been imitating Apple in hardware, software, and even business model. It would be ironic if Apple copied this from Xiaomi. Not that it really matters. Maybe they both copied it from someone else. What is of interest is it’s a pretty useful feature. So I’ll take it in both, Apple and Android flavours.

Moving on, I did the above videos using the new iOS screen recorder feature. I went looking for it in the new control panel but it wasn’t there. Seems it has to be enabled from within the settings. This took just a few seconds, after which I turned on the screen recorder, and recorded the screen capture. Embedding videos directly into a Medium post was be possible so I uploaded it to YouTube.

The other changes that I observed was the new look in apps like Music and the App store, the ability of the phone to notice when I was driving and stop all notifications, 3D functionality in many more places, including in the control centre.

You also discover stuff on the go. Like I was in the Notes app, and I saw a new + sign, and clicked on it out of curiousity, and unexpectedly got an option to scan documents among the other options. I’m sure there are many other hidden gems like this in iOS 11.

There are also lot more subtle touches all around the iOS. A lot of it is design, but it does make the iOS feel refreshed.

As far as performance goes, a few apps, like WhatsApp, did hang up on me a couple of times, but the phone itself didn’t crash. Some 32 bit apps, like Photogene, disappeared into the past without so much as a goodbye. I did notice some buttons on the edge of the screen did not register my touch so easy. But that could have been an issue with my phone’s hardware.

Is it worth installing iOS 11 beta instead of waiting for the official rollout?

If you have one of the new iPads, then maybe, as a lot of the real changes like split screen for dual app use, drag and drop etc, are only on the iPad. On the phone, I found the changes to be mostly cosmetic, apart from the screen capture and screen record features I mentioned.

Of course, this is purely my opinion from my perspective as a relatively clueless iPhone user. To a techie, there may be a lot of juicy stuff in this beta that’s completely invisible to me.

Were there any downsides to trying the beta?

Yes, one big one. Now that I have tried iOS 11, there’s nothing to look forward to when it launches. iOS 12 is a long way off, and by then I’ll be really bored of the look of iOS 11, having started on it earlier via the beta.

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with iOS 10. I installed the iOS 11 beta just for a change. It’s like waking up one morning, looking at the mirror, feeling bored with the same old look, and rushing off to get a new haircut.

So I guess the question really should be, is it time for your haircut?

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