Apple is a company largely based on tradition, looking at its past can often entail what it’ll do in the future. From events, hardware, and software, the company rarely veers off course with doing things the way it has been for decades.
Starting with a fully-digital-first of its kind WWDC, 2020 has been an abnormal year, to say the least. But, the abnormalities with Apple are going to extend beyond the conference, and into this summers beta release cycle too.
In the past, beta releases have obviously improved on system bugs and features, but this year will be different. The headlining features are shown off by Apple at WWDC, the rest is left for the community to find.
The first betas of iOS/iPadOS 14, macOS Big Sur, watchOS 7, and others have been remarkably stable compared to earlier releases. Beyond the expected minor bugs and glitches, the software doesn’t feel like a beta, but almost near a release version.
With a great start, there are many indications that this year’s beta cycle will be different than the rest and hopefully better. The first point to make comes from an interview that Apple’s SVP Craig Federighi had with Youtuber MKHBD. In the interview, Craig highlights that not only was the production team limited on time to make the WWDC keynote but that the software team also had to make sure that new OS’s were ready to be demoed and revealed.
What that likely meant is that the build shown off in the iOS introduction video, marketing material, etc… gave us a full view of iOS 14, while the 1st beta does not. Apple’s software development team likely had to push certain features to a later beta to ensure that it would meet the deadline of having a 1st beta released by June 22nd.
This also correlates perfectly with a report by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman released in November. In the report Bloomberg highlights that Craig Federighi and other Senior executives from Apple’s software division realized there was a systemic issue with the way software was being developed and tested. The realization came after the disastrous release of iOS 13 and the onslaught of bugs and complaints about it. Given, Apple formulated a new approach to software development.
According to the report, Apple’s new approach includes daily builds internally where testers can disable buggy or unfinished features. Testers can re-enable them on a per-feature basis within a new settings menu called “Flags”. In practice, this means that instead of shipping betas with entirely buggy or unfinished features, Apple can disable individual features that may cause instability before releasing it to beta testers.
During the development of iOS 13, different teams would constantly be adding new features to the system without proper testing leading to buggy features pilled on top of each other. With iOS 14 the new approach Bloomberg says will help engineers identify issues faster and make early versions of the software “livable”. These changes will range across all of Apple’s operating systems and not simply iOS and iPadOS.
There is already evidence of this new approach being put into practice. For example, in the iOS 14 reveal video during WWDC, there is clearly a Clock widget, an option not available in beta 1. In the same video, there is also an Apple TV+ and a Game Center widget none of which are options on the first developer build.
The video, whether simply for visual purposes or not, makes it seem that users will be able to change the size of widgets on the go, without having to delete and readd them. Lastly, as noted by Filipe Espósito, the video shows gradient versions of the iOS 14 wallpaper. The feature to enable users to create gradient versions of wallpapers was leaked earlier this year.
Aligning with the report by Bloomberg, these options such as the widgets, gradient wallpaper, and others were simply not stable enough for the first beta resulting in them getting pushed back. In the past using Apple’s former approach for developing and testing software, these features would have shipped on the first beta, even if they weren’t ready.
Taking these subtle hints in the video, Bloomberg’s report and comments made by Craig Federighi emphasizing that Apple will “hear feedback throughout the beta period” for possible changes is a clear sign that this beta cycle will be different than the rest.