Typical iOS release cycle (or, how many betas?)

One of the questions we're getting asked increasingly often is how many betas Apple will put out before the official iOS 5 release. There's no way to know, of course, because Apple is a secretive company that almost never pre-announces anything. However, with past behavior being a fairly good indicator of future behavior, we can look at previous iOS beta cycles and try to determine a rough schedule.

From 2008 through 2010 -- or iOS 2 through iOS 4 -- Apple held an iOS Preview Event in March or April, announced a bunch of new software features for iOS, and seeded a beta to developers. They seeded additional betas roughly every 2 weeks thereafter. From 4 to 8 betas were seeded, sometimes with no new betas for up to a month before WWDC, where Apple showed off a few more features. Final features were usually tied to whatever new hardware they were announcing for the next-generation iPhone, which historically debuted at the WWDC event. At the same time, Apple would make a Gold Master (GM) seed of iOS available to developers, and announce a date for the final iOS release -- typically around the same time as the next generation iPhone release -- late June or early July. Then the big day would come and everyone would hover their mouse pointers over the iTunes update button, and wait for Apple to pull the trigger.

This year, however, there was no March/April iOS Preview Event and iOS 5 was announced at WWDC 2011 instead. So all bets are off.

There will probably still be around 8 betas, and there will probably still be a few more features shown off at Apple Fall Event, to coincide with the expected iPhone 5 announcement. There will probably be an iOS 5 GM seed released that day for developers, and then assuming everything goes well, an official iOS 5 general release for everyone around the same time iPhone 5 goes on sale.

We'll only know for sure when Apple sends out invitations for their Fall Event and we get an actual date. It could be as early as mid August or as late as mid September. Last year it was September 1. The two years before that it was September 9. In 2007 it was September 5.

So iOS 5 beta 5 could be the last beta, and Apple could go silent until early September, or we could see another beta or two between now and then as they continue tweaking and testing. Here are the timelines past:

  • iOS 2: previewed March 6, 2008, 8 betas, released July 11, 2008
  • iOS 3: previewed, March 17, 2009, 5 betas, released June 17, 2009
  • iOS 4: previewed, April 8, 2010, 4 betas, released June 21, 2010
  • iOS 5: previewed June 6, 5 betas to date, released ?

We'll expect more only if and when we see it.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.