This is a time of temptation for Apple enthusiasts, many of whom are eager to get their hands -- and devices -- on the company's newest software. Between June, when company execs tout the upcoming versions of Apple's desktop and mobile operating systems, and the fall, when the polished, finished versions arrive, Apple users get a chance to serve as beta testers.
Having a hardcore set of fans eager to try out the latest software is a benefit that Apple has embraced. Last year, it allowed users to check out pre-release versions of OS X 10.10 Yosemite. This year, they can beta test OS X 10.11 El Capitan and -- for the first time -- an early version of the company's mobile operating system -- in this case, iOS 9. (Not available as a public beta is the pre-release build of Watch OS, which is a good thing; some of the developers that have tried it have found it to be unstable, and who wants to brick their brand new Apple Watch?)
To do so, users must sign up for Apple's Beta Software Program, which is free. The program allows access to relatively stable versions of the pre-release software and gives Apple engineers a wider audience to test it. That, theoretically, leads to more bugs uncovered and fixed before the final release. Public betas roll out every few weeks -- the most recent one arrived yesterday.
The problem with the time between beta and final releases is that many people who aren't developers or technology insiders use their primary device to test what is actually unfinished software -- and pre-release software is historically unstable, at best. Yes, Apple routinely warns you not to use your main iPhone, iPad or desktop to test the software. And users routinely ignore that advice.
But there's good news for iPhone and iPad owners who took the plunge into iOS 9 and have now decided -- whether because of problematic apps or the need for a more stable OS -- they prefer iOS 8. You can downgrade your device, and it's not even that difficult to do. But there is a caveat: Any data accumulated between the last time your device was backed up running iOS 8 and since the upgrade to iOS 9 will be lost, even if you recently backed up your data. Put simply, you cannot restore backup data from iOS 9 to a device running iOS 8; it's not compatible. The best you can do is restore from the most recent backup of iOS 8.
Assuming you still want to return to iOS 8, here's what to do.
If you're a public beta tester (who hasn't signed up to be full-fledged developer), you can downgrade your iDevice by putting it into DFU mode. (DFU stands for Device Firmware Update.) You use this method to restore iOS 8 without having to get the older operating system manually.
First, perform a backup via iCloud or iTunes. Even though you won't be able to use this data on iOS 8, it's always better to have a backup than not. Then go to Settings: iCloud: Find My iPhone and turn off Find My iPhone.
Then follow these instructions to put the iPhone into DFU mode: Turn off the iPhone and plug it into your computer. Hold the Home button down while powering on the phone, and hold both until you see the Apple logo disappear. You can release the power button, but continuing holding down the Home button until you see the iPhone's screen display instructions to plug the device into an iTunes-compatible computer. When prompted on your computer, click on the option to Restore, and iTunes will download the latest released version of iOS for your device.
If you're a developer, log into the Apple Developer portal (after you turn off Find My iPhone), click on the section for iOS and download the latest officially released build. As of now, that's iOS 8.4. Once the software is downloaded, open iTunes and click on the iPhone/iPad/iDevice tab. Within the Info tab, there are two buttons: Update and Restore. Hold down the Option button on the keyboard while clicking Restore. Navigate to the file that was just downloaded and select it. The software will then erase the iPhone or iPad of its contents and install that previous version of iOS.
Note: When downgrading to the previous version, make sure to option-click Restore; do not choose Update. Doing that will lead to a loop in which the iPhone is placed in Recovery mode, iTunes attempts to download and install the latest official build, runs into errors, and then attempts to download another copy of the official build. It will do that until you break the cycle and choose to Restore the device. So again, don't select Update.
Given that Apple software upgrades now routinely roll out in the fall, upgrading your devices to unstable software isn't a good way to spend the summer. For most people, I'd recommend waiting. The latest features are really only worth having when your device is stable, especially if it's something you rely on day in and day out. But if running the latest software is your thing, then by all means, have at it. And at least if you run into problems on your iDevice, you now know how to get out of trouble.