IOS 8 Beta 3 – A Train Wreck of a Different Color

I’d like to say things are getting better.   I really would…

Those that know me know that I’m a long time mobile device maven. I’ve got years of experience in mobile computing, telecommunications and mobile broadband as well as mobile app testing. If it runs on a handheld device of just about any size and OS (or laptop, too), I feel confident that I can give you a solid set of test results after playing with it for a while.

While extended testing is always the best way to go, I’ve also learned to trust my instincts.   As a product reviewer, extended testing helps you identify issues, trends and perhaps issue root causes. This is the best way for someone like me, in a beta testing role to test, as the results you get from this activity are more focused, more accurate and very reliable.   Quick looks as what was released are great for press hounds and getting article views, but don’t always provide the best details on the ins-and-outs of encountered issues.

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IOS 8 Beta 3 was released to the Apple Developer Community on 2014-07-07.   This one was just a few days longer than I initially anticipated, as I had heard that Beta 3 would be made available on or around 2014-07-03.   Honestly, it could have come sooner for me. iOS 8 Beta 2 was nearly unusable. I have no idea how someone would be able to test any of their app mods or new apps on it.   I had a hard time getting many apps to run with any level of consistency.

So I’ve spent a bit of time with iOS 8 Beta 3, and here are my first impressions. It’s still a train wreck; and not ready for even developers to really use to create apps with yet.   Testing existing apps for compatibility will also be very difficult.  I say this as an experienced software QA professional.   In not so technical terms – train wreck is a kindness.

Here are the issues as I see them at this point. I may update this column with additional information, or expound upon it in an additional column as things become clearer over the next couple of weeks (Apple’s traditional time period between beta updates).

Please note that when installing any new beta release, I never, EVER restore a backup. I always set the new release up as a new iPhone. It’s more work to do this, but insures that all settings and plist files on the device are created from scratch, without any legacy issues or problems from previous builds being brought over.

App Crashes and Other Issues

·    Facebook – often force quits when initially started.   Doesn’t update as expected.   Newsfeed contains items that are totally fresh (minutes old) next to items that are completely stale (10-18+ hours/ days old).
·    Gmail – mail items don’t update as expected. App force quits or freezes unexpectedly during updates
·    Mail – Stability is greatly improved, but comes at the expense of occasional app force quits.  The app also freezes unexpectedly during an update; but at least I can delete 4-5 messages at a time without the app crashing or force quitting on me.
·    Pebble App – No consistent BT LE connectivity (see the Bluetooth section, below)
·    Angry Birds Friends – The app won’t connect to Facebook and therefore, you can’t play the game with your power-ups or other in-app purchases. The app hasn’t worked right in all 3 iOS 8 Betas.
·    Health – this app is about as intuitive and easy to use as an operations manual for a nuclear power plan is to read and understand. IOS 8 Beta 3 is supposed to incorporate a way to count steps in Health.  I have no idea how to do this, and the app doesn’t yet have any info in it that explains that this requires the iPhone 5s or later (as it has the M7 chip and accelerometer which enables this).  It’s also NOT communicating with any other apps as of yet that I can see. I can’t get it and Run Keeper or Nike’s Fuel Band app to show up as sources.
·    Phone – the actual call screen and the phone app seem somewhat disconnected or discombobulated.   The app often doesn’t show the in-call screen or displays a combination/overlay of the two after attempting to end a call.   Dialing from Favorites is a problem. I’ve had occasions where the device has frozen without connecting a call when trying to dial from a saved Favorite, yet the devices top speaker seems engaged as you can hear dead air from it at that point (but the call likely will NOT connect).

Adding a Favorite from the Recent Calls list doesn’t always present you with the correct number or options you want for actually adding the Favorite (FaceTime, Voice Call, etc.)  Again, Apple is playing with the core code it uses to communicate with all of its radios in the iPhone.  I would have thought this would have been worked out in Alpha Builds and not in Beta releases…apparently, that’s just me.  However, from what I’m seeing, the app’s behavior suggests that there’s some heavy logging going on in the background, and this may be the cause for its sluggishness, crashes, graphic artifacts, etc… or it could be that the code is still in flux, too. It’s difficult to say…

My confidence level is set to – Low

I’m not happy with the way app compatibility is working out, and I’m certain that many 3rd party developers won’t be either.  With the way things are shaping up, they’re going to have to do some serious reworking of their products to get them to work correctly with iOS 8.  This means that after reworking, testing and getting everything set, they will need to rev the app and have it resubmitted to the Apple App Store.  Given what I am seeing, I think a huge backup of apps needing review will be experienced and Apple will bump into a problem with backlog.

Bluetooth
Front, back – cha, cha, cha.

This particular area seems to have taken one step forward and two steps back. I have had trouble pairing my iPhone 5 with EVERY Bluetooth device I have, including my Kenwood BT CD/R-6P1 car radio, Pebble Steel smartwatch and LG and Beats wireless headphones. I haven’t had an opportunity to try connecting my Nike+ Fuel Band.   The one thing that did connect without a problem is the Tile I have attached to my key ring. It connects without issue and STAYS connected, which flies right in the face of a known issue.   Currently, CoreBluetooth services are totally borked:

The CoreBluetooth State Preservation and Restoration feature does not work. If your application is jetsammed while in the background performing long-term action(s), with CoreBluetooth, those applications will cease and the application will not be restored.

Honestly, I’m really surprised that Bluetooth is working at ALL in iOS 8. As I stated before, they seem to be rewriting the Bluetooth stack from the ground up, and as such, I’d expect problems with Bluetooth connectivity with any and all device types. I don’t care how long this takes to resolve; but in the end, this really needs to be totally rock solid.

My confidence level is set to – Medium

Unless Apple does a much better job at pulling this together (and it still IS a bit early in the beta cycle…) in the next couple beta releases, I think this is an area that will need to see updates AFTER the initial release of iOS 8.0 in order to make things work correctly.   I do want to qualify this a bit though.   Apple can extend the beta period as long as it needs to.   This can still come together. I’m basing my statement on three beta releases.

Settings
This is a huge mess. It’s clear to me that Apple is still working on (tweaking is too delicate of a word…) much of the core code rewrite of the mobile OS, and as such, it’s no surprise that Settings is in a worse state than it was in previous beta releases.  Unfortunately, because Settings now behaves like a child throwing a tantrum (on occasion), using the device in any way has become challenging.  If you can’t set anything up, it’s difficult to use the device at all…

In no particular order, here are items of concern that I’ve noticed about Settings since installing iOS 8 Beta 3.
·    The app often force quits unexpectedly, sending you back to the home screen without notice.
·    PIM (mail, contacts, and calendar) data doesn’t always sync consistently for non-Apple accounts.  Fetch doesn’t fetch data. You may have to change “Fetch” to “Manual” and then run the associated app in order to get data to come down to your device.  I’ve noticed this with Google Accounts/ Google Apps Accounts more than any other.
·    Bluetooth settings are difficult to change.  Discovery works just fine, but actually pairing a new device can be challenging. It took me over 10 times to get my car radio to pair with my iPhone 5 running iOS 8 Beta 3, and that process involved initiating the pair from either the radio OR the iPhone, completely turning off both devices at different times, putting the radios in airplane mode, etc.  I actually thought at one point that I wasn’t going to be able to get the two devices to pair…
·    Settings often force quits when trying to modify Bluetooth settings.  The app crashes here more than in any other area, though it does force quit when trying to work with Wi-Fi settings, too.  Apple is obviously changing the way it communicates with your iPhone’s radios, and as such, Settings is very flakey.  This is problematic when the Bluetooth stack itself is in bad shape.  When the Settings for it often force close the Settings app, you really have to wonder just HOW you’re going to get any testing or other work done in this area.
·    There are issues with Notification Center.  I’ve noticed that Notifications often don’t register (new mail coming in, for example) when they are configured to do so. Running Notification Center itself doesn’t always resolve the issue. Opening Settings—Notifications doesn’t always resolve the issue.  This however, is to be expected, as this is an area that Apple is known to be making some big changes in with iOS 8.

My confidence level is set to – Low

iOS 8 is still in heavy active development. I would have – and actually did – expect things to be much more mature by now than they were in Beta 1 and Beta 2. Apple Beta’s are often very mature releases and seeing things in this state is a bit surprising to me when you look back at 6-7 previous beta releases of Apple’s mobile operating system.  Honestly, I didn’t expect iOS 8 to be the major reworking that its turning out to be. Apple tends to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary and as such, development has historically been a progression and not a tear down and rebuild.  iOS 8 seems to be, and very much has, that kind of feel to it. Apple is rebuilding a lot more of their core services than I thought they would.  This isn’t a bad thing. I am just surprised by these developments.

Some people wouldn’t be surprised given all of the rumors out there for the iWatch.  I’m surprised because we haven’t gotten any official word or anything really substantial from the rumor mill that would suggest that a newer, completely different type of iDevice is going to be presented to the public.

However, if Apple IS going to surprise us with some sort of watch or fitness band with a boat load of new sensors and functionality, then doing this type of tear down and rebuild to allow for new and different kinds and types of communication and device interaction wouldn’t be very surprising.  So, I’m interested and intrigued; but not much more than that because I have nothing substantial to hang that raised eyebrow on.

Conclusion
iOS 8 Beta 3 is an evolutionary beta release. I can see progress in it over Beta 2, but it’s clear that Apple has taken a step or two back in some areas in order to move things forward in the end. Communications – which is the heart of any mobile device OS – is a huge focus for iOS 8; and Apple is doing a lot of work with the iPhone at a grass roots level. If you were hoping to jump on to iOS 8 Beta 3 and have a mostly usable device, you’re not going to be happy yet. A lot of the device is still unusable. Apple is clearly still on the bottom end of the development curve with iOS 8 Beta 3.  There’s clearly a long way ahead of us before we can consider this feature complete and all Apple is doing is refining code and squashing bugs.

Are you looking forward to iOS 8?  What are you most interested in as far as its feature set and capabilities are concerned?  Do you have a specific area of interest that you’d like me to comment on, test or research?  Why don’t you give me your thoughts in the discussion area below, and I’ll do my best to get something written up and posted on it in the coming days before Beta 4 hits, in an expected two week time frame (which would be somewhere around 2014-07-21).

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