Image for article titled Why You Should Be Careful When Installing a Beta Operating System

Installing a beta on your device gives you access to new features and changes before almost anyone else on the platform. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and most other tech companies have an open beta for their users that they can sign up for when needed. However, installing a beta on your phone, laptop, or tablet is not risk-free. In fact, if you do this, you might lose all of your data.

What are betas really for?

Beta programs are designed for two main purposes, depending on the type of software used. The most common reason is to test unfinished programs for errors or other instabilities. If the tested software is an operating system such as Android or iOS, beta tests also offer app developers the opportunity to get to know the new software and test their apps with it.

Betas are inherently unstable. The company that makes the beta software doesn’t expect it to run smoothly. In fact, it expects the opposite – it wants to know what is wrong with the software so that it can fix these issues before it is officially released.

Therefore, if you choose to download and install a beta version on your device, you are choosing to use unfinished, unstable software. You have to take the risk of encountering bugs that affect day-to-day performance, app compatibility, and even your ability to use your device in the first place.

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Can’t you just uninstall a broken beta?

Well you can, but it’s not pretty. In order to uninstall a beta operating system from your device and downgrade to the latest official version, you need to do two things: remove the beta and install a new version of the stable software. In short, you need to fully restore your device, sacrifice all the data on it.

(The Apple Watch is the big exception to this rule –Our explainer explains why you can’t uninstall a watchOS beta.)

Can you recover your data after uninstalling a beta operating system?

Well, it’s not all bad. As long as you have backed up your data before installing the beta version, you can use this backup to restore your device. However, if you made a backup during the beta, you will not be able to restore that backup because you will be running a different version of the software on your device after downgrading.

For example, let’s say you have this iOS 15 beta run on your iPhone. You will remove the beta profile and restore your iPhone to iOS 14.7. If you have a backup of your iPhone that you made on iOS 14.7, you can fall back on it and only lose the data that you accumulated while running the beta. However, if you created a newer backup while running iOS 15 beta, that backup will be inaccessible while iOS 14.7 was running.

There is an exception to this for data that is tied to cloud accounts such as iCloud or Google and that fills your device when you log into your account, as well as files that you back up to external sources such as an external hard drive or a cloud Drive. You should still be able to access all data within these services, but not your full device backup.

How can I protect my data before installing a beta?

If you’re okay with taking the risks of installing beta software, there are a few best practices that you should follow to keep your data safe, some of which we’ve already touched on:

  • Back up your device immediately before installing the beta software.
  • Back up your data in accounts and cloud services when available. Use for example Messages in iCloud to tie your messages to your Apple ID; Keep your notes and reminders with an account like iCloud or Google. The takeaway here: Try not to store any important information exclusively on your device.
  • Back up other important information to external sources: use a cloud drive like iCloud, Google Drive, or OneDrive to store individual files, or get the same result with an external hard drive.

Which data is not at risk when installing a beta?

Not all data needs to be micro-managed. Many of the third-party apps you use have your data tied to your account and not to your particular device. Some examples:

  • Instagram stores all of your posts and DMs on your account.
  • Snapchat keeps your memories tied to your account.
  • WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and most messaging apps save your chat history with your account.

If your data is saved this way, it will instantly reappear when you reinstall the apps on your device after downgrading. The same thing happens when you log into these services from a new device, so you don’t have to worry about data loss when erasing and resetting your phone, for example.

Stay safe out there, beta tester!