Apple often credits its unique combination of hardware, software, and services as the secret sauce that makes its products so good. It's hard to argue that control over the whole widget hasn't played into Apple's history of creating incredibly well-designed products like the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the Apple Watch.
But as our technological lives get even more and more complex, it's become apparent that Apple's play is ever more about the ecosystem. I came to this realization in the aftermath of the company's WWDC announcements of the past month, when I found myself itching at the prospect of upgrading my Apple Watch to the watchOS 3 beta.
Much as I would like to come before you with that task as a fait accompli, it turns out that the situation's just a little more complicated than it used to be.
Want to install the watchOS 3 beta? Not so fast.
The beta cascade
I'm no stranger to the beta game. In my former capacity as a Macworld editor it was part of the routine: Apple announces new software in the summer, we install the betas so that we can get a jump on familiarizing ourselves and preparing our pieces on those features. (Because if we waited to write about them all until the day they were officially released, we would die, thanks to Apple's penchant for releasing all of its major updates and hardware within the space of about a single week in September.)
In the past, that's often meant installing beta software on a spare device, but sooner or later, there's no substitute for committing it to the iOS device or Mac that you use every day. The key question is at what point you make that jump: Usually you give Apple a few beta releases to work out the kinks and fully implement many of the features.
Nowadays I have fewer spare devices available to install betas on-but to heck with it, I thought to myself: My Apple Watch, much as I like it, is hardly an indispensable part of my everyday life. And ready I was to go ahead and install the watchOS 3 beta when I ran up against a bit of a brick wall-because in order to install the watchOS 3 beta, I also needed to install the iOS 10 beta on my iPhone.
It doesn't stop there, either. Want to try out Apple's new Auto Unlock feature? You'll need to have the watchOS 3 beta installed and the macOS Sierra beta. Meanwhile, the automation features of HomeKit in iOS 10 take advantage of the fact that an Apple TV (or, optionally, an iPad) is always on and connected to your network to run routines as specific times. And the Universal Clipboard? Well, yeah, I think you can figure that out.
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