How to get Apple's iOS 13, iPadOS or macOS 'Catalina' betas

Apple makes it fairly easy to install still-in-development versions of its desktop and mobile OSes, but the usual caveats apply: Always back up your hardware first, and expect glitches and bugs. Here's what to do and where to go.

ios 13 logo apple

Apple earlier this month issued previews for this year's upgrades to iOS and macOS, its two most popular operating systems, at the firm's annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

It also debuted a new OS for the iPad - called, not surprisingly, iPadOS - and seeded a preview of that, too.

The betas of iOS 13, iPadOS and macOS 10.15 - the latter's nickname came from another California location, "Catalina" - were initially delivered only to registered developers. But anyone who wants to run the rougher code can do so now: Free public betas for iOS 13, iPadOS and Mojave were released Monday, a week before the start of July, the month Apple had initially pegged as the availability window.

Apple operates its beta programs differently than Microsoft, the enterprise king. The Cupertino, Calif. company's processes tilt, as does its business strategy, toward individuals, not collectives. To corporate IT, the whole iOS/iPad/macOS preview situation must seem fly-by-the-seat-of-one's-pants.

That's where answers to the most common questions about Apple's betas comes in. If everyone is on their own, more or less, everyone needs to know how to grab a preview.

What are the two ways to get the iOS, iPadOS and macOS betas?

You heard right. There is a for-a-fee path to Apple's previews as well as one that doesn't cost a dime.

The former is by registering as an Apple developer, a process that takes just moments but costs $99 each year to maintain membership. Registered developers may download previews, utilize Apple's APIs and submit products to the company's App Store and Mac App Store.

Individuals do not need to actually develop iOS, iPadOS or macOS apps, or even know the difference between code and cake. All that's required is an Apple ID - the username/password combination for accessing iCloud works - bits of personal information, like name and mailing address, and a credit card to pay the $99 fee.

To register as a developer, start on this page. Once registered, you can download the iOS 13, iPadOS and/or macOS 10.15 (Catalina) betas from the Downloads page of Apple's Developer website.

Apple's Public Beta, on the other hand, costs nothing. It also requires an Apple ID, such as the username/password authentication used to log into iCloud. Register with the beta program here, where a click of the "Sign up" button at the top starts the process.

A single sign-up gives individuals access to the iOS 13, iPadOS and macOS 10.15 (Catalina) betas.

iOS 13 beta profile Apple

How do I install the iOS beta?

Whether the developer preview or the public beta, the iOS sneak peek gets onto an eligible iPhone by heading to the Downloads section of the Developers website (for the dev preview) or (for the public beta) with the to-run-the-beta device. From that location, you download a "Configuration Profile" to the device. Once the profile has been installed and the device restarted, tap Settings, then General and finally Software Update. The preview should be offered. Download it OTA (over the air) as with any update or upgrade.

Beta updates will be offered regularly, just as production-quality updates are throughout an iOS edition's lifecycle. Approve each as you would any other update, and the iPhone or iPad will download and install the newest iOS 13 version, then restart to complete the process.

Need more help or information? Steer here: "Installing Apple Beta Software."

How do I install the iPadOS beta?

Use the iOS procedure to get the beta of iPadOS onto your iPad.

On the "Enroll Your Devices to Get Public Beta Software" page (or the Downloads section of the Developers site for the dev preview), click on the iPadOS button, then download the configuration profile to the tablet by tapping "Download profile." Once the profile has been installed and the iPad restarted, tap Settings, then General and finally Software Update. The preview should be offered. Download it OTA (over the air) as with any update or upgrade.

How do I install the macOS beta?

Not surprisingly, the procedure is similar to previewing iOS and iPadOS.

Each Mac must be "enrolled" in the beta by downloading and installing the "macOS Developer/Public Beta Access Utility," available from the Downloads section of the Developers website (for the dev preview) or (for the public beta).

Once a Mac has been enrolled with the installation of the access utility, launch "Software Update" from the System Preferences panel - if it does not do so automatically - and click the Download (first-time beta program participant) or Upgrade Now (previous participant) button.

Future updates will be offered to the enrolled Mac automatically, just like non-preview updates and upgrades.

Apple beta site Apple

What to know before you venture into BetaLand

The usual running-preview-code caveats apply to all three operating system betas.

If possible, choose a device that you don't rely on for critical chores. We know, that's not always feasible - or for the adventurous, not even fun - but we're making sure you've gotten the warning.

(On a Mac, the preview can be placed on a secondary partition of the drive. Check out these instructions on how to do that in macOS 10.14, aka Mojave, or 10.13, High Sierra.)

Second, back up the contents of the device so that if necessary, you can restore it to its pre-preview state. If the only time you hear the words "back up" is when your car passenger screams at you to shove it into reverse, read up on backing up an iPhone or iPad here, a Mac here.

Can I configure multiple Macs or iPhones for the betas?


Unlike, say, Windows Insider, Microsoft's public preview program, there's no way for an IT administrator to set multiple Macs, iPhones or iPads so that they access, download, install and run the Catalina, iOS 13 and iPadOS previews. Each user must enroll their device(s) using their own Apple ID.

An admin's best bet would be to craft an email that points employees to the appropriate URLs, such as the registration and enrollment pages for the public beta. Also, the Apple Developer Enterprise Program - $299 annually - covers multiple people in the company, all of whom can download the non-public previews for internal app development purposes.

How many betas will Apple release for iOS 13, iPadOS and macOS 10.15?

Even Apple doesn't know for certain.

In the past five years, Apple released 10 (Mojave, 2018), six (High Sierra, 2017) seven (Sierra, 2016), six (El Capitan, 2015) and six (Yosemite, 2014) public OS X/macOS betas, with an updated version appearing, on average, every two weeks. Developer betas were issued more frequently - and often they were different snapshots-in-time than public previews - with, for example, 11 delivered for Mojave last year.

The total tally will be less important, much less, than the quality of the builds. Near the end of the preview process, for instance, Apple has at times released one "gold master" - a term reserved for an almost-there final - after another in quick succession as it and testers have found bugs. Other years, a single gold master, or at most a pair, have been enough.

What about support? Where do I go for that?

The usual documentation and peer-to-peer support forums are available to registered developers from Apple's website, which is a big part of the return for your $99 per year membership fee.

You're on your own with the public beta, though.

Apple doesn't offer support, not even a dedicated user-to-user discussion group, for iOS, iPadOS or macOS previews, where queries to more experienced hands can be posted. Compared to Microsoft, which hosts the Windows Insider preview program - it includes discussion groups and blogs – Apple runs a bare bones beta.

How do I get off the iOS, iPadOS or macOS beta trains?

Easily, it turns out: Apple posted instructions here.

On a Mac, pick System Preferences from the Apple menu, then click the Software Update icon. In the pop-up that appears, click "Details" at the left (under "This Mac is enrolled in the Apple Beta Software Program") and then click "Restore Defaults" on the next dialog.

On an iPhone or iPad - for the betas of iOS 13 and iPadOS - navigate to Settings > General > Profiles and tap the iOS 13 or iPadOS Beta Software Profile (the one downloaded to enroll the device in the first place). Tap Remove Profile, confirm by tapping Remove. (You may be asked for the device passcode.)

After finishing those tasks, the Mac, iPhone or iPad will stop receiving beta builds.

When Catalina, iOS 13 and iPadOS release this fall - most likely in September - you can install the final from the Mac App Store or App Store without having to revert to the version that ran the Mac or iPhone/iPad before the public beta was applied.

How do I get rid of the beta and revert to what I had?

That's why you backed up the iPhone, iPad or Mac. Right? You did back it up before you went beta. Right?

Apple's support site walks you through the restoration process in case the beta left a bad taste. Do what it says.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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