iOS 10 public beta is live: Here's everything you need to know

Back up, strap in, and go nuts! iOS 10 is ready for public beta.

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So far today is shaping up to be software Christmas. First Apple dropped the public beta of macOS Sierra, which was exciting enough. But don’t let your iPhone and iPad feel neglected, because Apple is also launching the public beta of iOS 10.

Now, a beta is a beta. Don’t get swept up in the excitement and forget that this software isn’t final and could have bugs, so you might want to think twice about putting it on your everyday iPhone. That said, developers are on their second beta of iOS 10 and we haven’t heard about any major problems, so if you’re feeling brave, here’s how to get the beta and what you can expect when you do.

What is the iOS 10 beta?

Apple has a Beta Software Program that started with OS X 10.10 Yosemite and is now providing betas of macOS Sierra. iOS 10 is the second version of iOS that is available as a public beta—before last year’s launch of the iOS public beta program, you had to join the developer program for $99 (per year) to get prerelease versions of iOS. The public beta lets you avoid that expense, and will make it easier to install the beta too.

Keep in mind, as we already said, that this is prerelease software—it’s close to being ready for release, but it still needs testing. You might see bugs, your iPhone or iPad could crash more often, and some of your apps and services might not work.

What should I do before installing it?

Back up! Back up your device—I recommend a tethered backup to iTunes with the “Encrypt this backup” box checked, so you won’t have to log in to all your apps and services again if you should need to restore from this backup. An encrypted backup saves all your Health data too. Again, Apple recommends you install the iOS 10 beta on a secondary device.

I’m ready to live dangerously! How do I sign up?

You just head to the Beta Software Program page and express interest by signing in with your Apple ID and password. You also have to agree to the terms and enroll your iOS device.

How do I enroll my device?

Once you log in to the Beta Software Program page, you’ll see a link to Enroll your iOS device. Apple will remind you to make a backup (seriously, you really, really have to back up—back up to iTunes, and Apple recommends you “archive” the backup to make sure it’s saved), and then you’re instructed to go to on the iOS device that you want to put the beta on, in order to download and install a configuration profile. That will make the beta available as an over-the-air software update in the Settings app.

While you’re waiting for it to download and install, you can check out 20 iOS 10 features we’re most excited about, or this more truncated look at 10 major headaches that iOS 10, watchOS 3, and tvOS 10 are going to fix.

Which devices are supported?

There’s some bad news: iOS 10 doesn’t support some of the older devices that are compatible with iOS 9. The iPhone 4s, second- and third-gen iPads, the original iPad mini, and the fifth-generation iPod touch are all being left behind. It’s kind of a bummer: My third-gen iPad, purchased just four years ago, was still hanging on until I gave it away a month ago. It had definitely slowed down, and it couldn’t take advantage of any of the iPad-related productivity features included in iOS 9. But still, four years isn’t that old, even as hardware goes!

But I digress.

Take a look at the chart below to see if you can even put the iOS 10 public beta on your device:

ios 10 compatibility Apple

Is there anything special I should do to protect my data while I’m running iOS 10?

Back up and keep backing up. Back up like it’s an Olympic sport and you’re an alternate trying to make the first team. Back up your photos, and not just your Camera Roll. Someone sends you a cute photo or video in a text? Save it to your Camera Roll so you can back it up. Basically you don’t want to have any files that are stored only on your iPhone or iPad running the beta. Everything should exist in another location too.

Since so much of what we do with our iPhones is cloud-based, you might not keep a ton of documents stored locally on your iPhone, and it can be easy to forget to back up. So give it some thought. Look at the apps you use—do they store things in your Dropbox, in your iCloud Drive, or in another cloud location? You should be OK. But files you create on your device—photos and videos spring to mind, but there might be more—need to be backed up often.

How do I install updates to the beta?

Apple will update the iOS 10 public beta a few times before the final version ships. But updating it is easy—you can update over the air in the Settings app, or use iTunes. It’s always a good idea to back up before updating, of course.

Can I go back to iOS 9 if something goes wrong?

Yes you can. It requires erasing your device first, so you better believe you’ll need a backup. You’ll just connect your iPhone or iPad to your Mac, put it in recovery mode, and restore it to the backup you made before you installed iOS 10. So yes, you really do need to do a backup to iTunes before you install iOS 10’s public beta.

When does the final version ship?

In the fall—typically it’s right around the time the new iPhones come out, which has traditionally been the second week of September. (We at Macworld don’t know what Apple’s plans are for this year, but that’s been the pattern lately.) When the final version drops, people running the public beta will be able to upgrade to it and shouldn’t lose any data. Especially if they’ve backed everything up just in case, which I’m sure you’re sick of hearing me tell you by now.

(Remember to back up.)

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