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​Apple opens up a little more with new iOS beta testing

Letting more people test software before its final release helps Apple find bugs faster -- and potentially nip bigger problems in the bud, too.

Apple invited OS X beta testers to try a new iOS beta version, too.
Apple invited OS X beta testers to try a new iOS beta version, too. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Apple has broadened a public beta program to iOS, letting people help stamp out bugs in upcoming versions of the mobile operating system before the software ships to everyone.

The company began a public beta program for its OS X personal computer operating system in 2014 before releasing the current 10.10 Yosemite version. For iOS, Apple offers access to the upcoming version 8.3.

Apple invited OS X beta testers to try the iOS beta in an email Thursday. "For the first time ever, we are broadening the program to include the all-new iOS Beta," the invitation said. "The feedback you have provided on the OS X Yosemite Beta continues to help us shape OS X, and we would like to offer you an invitation to the iOS 8 .3 Beta."

People also can sign up for the program on Apple's beta-test site. Apple already had offered more limited beta testing to some developers.

Beta tests allow companies to get feedback on software before it's distributed to a broad audience. They also raise the chances that bugs are found before they become a big public problem.

That could avoid some problems of the past. Last year, Apple's first rounds of iOS 8 stumbled badly, to the company's chagrin. The initial version, released in September, required some bug fixes, which were supposed to come a week later with iOS 8.0.1 -- which, as it turned out, introduced even more bugs, and Apple had to scramble to pull it and then quickly launch version 8.0.2. More bug fixes and feature updates came with iOS 8.1 and 8.1.2 later in the year.

In 2011, when Apple released Final Cut Pro X, the radical new interface surprised and displeased many customers. Including more of them in beta testing might have shown Apple which missing features were important to customers and shown customers the direction the software was headed.

Even with the new iOS beta effort, Apple isn't changing its fundamental philosophy that it knows what's best for users. But the beta program, combined with moves such as active developer outreach for its new Swift programming language, shows Apple is shedding at least some of its earlier secrecy.

What's in the iOS 8.3 beta? Here's Apple's description:

The iOS 8.3 Beta includes improved performance, increased stability, bug fixes, and a redesigned Emoji keyboard. This release also provides additional language and country support for Siri: English (India, New Zealand), Danish (Denmark), Dutch (Netherlands), Portuguese (Brazil), Russian (Russia), Swedish (Sweden), Thai (Thailand), and Turkish (Turkey).

Apple also has a public beta program for its new Photos software for OS X. It replaces the earlier iPhoto program and is more tightly coupled with the iOS Photos app.