Weekend Read: Don’t Use Beta Software

BETA stands for Doesn’t Work, Will Break, Might Delete Everything. It’s become a more familiar term since Google labelled Gmail as a beta for years and Apple did the same with Siri. It’s familiar enough a term that people don’t understand it and that’s more than just a shame when it means you can end up losing your work.

The current iOS 9 and OS X betas from Apple are causing problems. The beta for watchOS 2.0 which drives Apple Watches is apparently driving those watches back to Apple as they become useless.

You can and I do think Apple shouldn’t have put out software in this state but that is what beta software is. When you’re first making an application, you clobber together bits and pieces until it sort of, kinda, a bit looks like one day it may work. That’s an alpha release and it’s where you see if the thing has any point and it’s the place you think, do you know, it’d be much better in yellow. Or blue. Purple and orange with spots.

Eventually you reach a point where someone says enough. You can’t change the colour any more. It’s time to get this out into the hands of people to try it.

That’s a beta. It’s software of a set colour being put out to be tried. It will break. It cannot fail but to break. The issue is over how badly. If you’re a developer, the intended audience for a beta, these crashing failures are just your day to day life. They are why there is a beta. A bit breaks, you fix it, next day you move on.

If you’re a user, it’s different. You’re using your computer or your phone to ring people up or to compute, you can’t afford to have a problem. Hence the warnings every software company gives you about how you shouldn’t try this beta on your main or primary computing device and how you should have a backup. It’s a warning to us but it’s not. It’s really a note to future litigators that the company did warn people.

Few folk pay attention to that warning and today that means some people are having to return their watches to Apple.

It’s bad and worse than it should’ve been, worse than it would’ve been if Apple hadn’t made this beta public. But betas are there to be tested and for the problems to be found. There is no better way of testing software that will be relied on by millions of people than to try it with millions. Hence the public beta and for all the problems current ones are causing people, we’re seeing more of it and we’re going to see still more.

It’s important to beta test. You just haven’t signed on to be the one who gets problems so don’t be the one who installs and runs this pre-release stuff.

By the way, alpha releases are followed by beta releases but betas are not followed by gammas. The one after a beta is known as the GM or Gold Master, it’s the version of the software that is ready to ship. It used to be that software was sold on shiny discs so the Gold Master would be sent to the pressing plant. Funny how terms continue long after what they describe is gone.

Embrace the suck

Not my words. But the idea strikes chords with me:

Embrace the suck.

Doing something hard sucks. It’s not easy, and often you’re confused about how to do it because you haven’t done it much before. So what? Hard things suck, but life isn’t always peaches with roses on top (and a sprinkle of cinnamon). It sucks sometimes, and that’s perfectly fine. Embrace all of life, thorns and pits and all. Life would be boring without the suck. So smile, embrace the suck, and get moving.

10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do – By Leo Babauta, zen habits (16 April 2014)

That’s number 5 in a series of 10 tips on how to make yourself do something you don’t want to. I’ve done better than last time, I’ve read beyond number 1, but for some reason I don’t want to read the rest. I wonder if number 6 tells me how to read numbers 7-10.

Read the full piece because you’re a better person than I am.

I know this because you wouldn’t have forgotten where you read this. I know it was on reddit but can I find the original link to say appropriate and correct thanks?

Long term review: Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air

At the end of last year, I wrote a snap review of how great the Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air was. Now after seven months of use, it’s not so great. But what was good continues to be excellent and there’s been one positive surprise.

But first, it looks like this:


(Image from iMore.com)

You get the idea. It’s an external keyboard for the iPad Air. I went through a long time of resisting these and just typing directly onto my iPad but it’s true: these keyboards can speed you up tremendously. They just add bulk to the previously very light and slim iPad, they’re just another thing to cart around. But this Belkin one is also a case: the iPad snaps into it and together the two are quite small.


The reason I borrowed that photo from Imore.com is that I couldn’t take one that looked as good. Because mine is not in that great a state. Take a look:


That’s a rubber protective cover that goes over magnets in the case. Or they should. Mine came off within a week or so and I complained to Belkin via their 24-hour guaranteed response support service. After a week of no reaction, I went to their twitter and Facebook pages and that got attention. Eventually, it got me a replacement keyboard.

It just took weeks.

I opened it up, snapped the iPad Air into it and began emailing them a thank you.


The spacebar didn’t work.

I tell you, you know that when a company makes thousands of a device there are going to be some that are wrong. It’s a pain when you’re the one who gets a fault but it happens and the company will replace it. Sheer statistics mean it has to happen and the fact that my second one had an even worse fault was just another fluke. That’s the attitude I had when I began the social media chase again and when I got into long phone calls but by the end I was the disgruntled, annoyed and I’m embarrassed to say also rude customer that I hate being.

They wanted to know if I were sure that the space bar didn’t work. They were willing to take it into their lab and if their technicians agreed that it didn’t work, they’d get me a replacement. “If your technicians don’t agree that it doesn’t work, fire your technicians,” I said. “And I have already been without this for longer than I’ve been with it, why should I wait for you to prove what I already know?”

They promised to skip that whole step and just replace the keyboard. If they did skip it, I can’t tell because it took longer for the third keyboard to arrive.

That one had a working spacebar and the rubber protective feet lasted a fortnight. Three faults in a row means a design fault to me so I don’t see a point going back to them. I’ve continued using the keyboard and just accepted that it looks awful with bare, exposed metal.

As a keyboard, the working version, it works. The feel of the keys is good, I am writing thousands of words on it. In December, I said this:

I don’t like the arrangement of the apostrophe, colon/semi-colon and enter keys: they’re taking me some while to get used to but otherwise, the feel is a lot like the Apple Wireless keyboard one – not as great but still good – and the speed difference it makes is marvellous.

Snap review: Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air – William Gallagher, The Blank Screen (30 December 2013)

That all still stands. I had hoped that I’d get used to those mis-placed keys and unfortunately I haven’t.

But it’s good enough. I am disappointed that what was an expensive Christmas present for myself has proved less than satisfactory but before it all went wrong, I did recommend the keyboard to a friend and she’s happy with hers. I’m not happy with mine but I use it a lot. I’d like to enjoy using it more than I do, but.

Let me cautiously recommend that you take a look at it on Amazon UK, though, especially as the price has dropped by £30 to £69.99. The black version is here, the white is there.

In America, the price has only dropped around $20 to approximately $120 and the black is on Amazon USA here, the white is there.

But the reason I’m writing this today when it’s been on my mind to tell you for months is that Macworld just updated its roundup of the best iPad keyboard cases and this one doesn’t make the cut. It does get an also-ran mention but there are five other cases that the magazine recommends more. So do take a look at their list too, would you?

Ex-WiFi engineer fixes your problems

Er, with wifi. Alf Watt, ex-Apple engineer, has been speaking specifically about wifi issues, he’s not left the company to become an agony aunt. Mind you, if you’ve ever hung out of a hotel window trying to get a signal, you’d take anything.

He spoke with The Mac Observer and really spoke: they’ve done a podcast interview that goes into a lot of detail. But the MO site also includes a breakout description of the most useful points, including screenshots for those of us who don’t spend a lot of time deep in Wifi dialog boxes.

Have a mug of tea and a read.