Apple’s announcement yesterday of a more accessible OS X Beta Program is a surprising, and interesting, move both for Apple and third-party developers.
Apple has been continually (almost weekly, it seems) issuing OS X Mavericks pre-release builds for point-release updates. Given the wide variation in Mac hardware and software configurations, it seems prudent that Apple would want to widen the test base.
There’s been plenty of chatter about what it means for Mac developers having to support pre-release OS X versions, chatter that I suspect falls on deaf ears in the company of iOS developers - and it’s true that by placing OS X betas into the hands of more customers, developers will likely be hearing much quicker about problems. But I think this is a good thing: the end result is continually-improved apps (and OS X to boot). That’s not to say that it’s plain sailing: to pick on one particular problem - the ability of pre-release users to leave App Reviews is something that needs to be considered both on the Mac and iOS. (rdar://problem/9060111)
Then there’s the question of how this plays into another facet of Apple’s strategy: Apple wants you targeting (solely) the latest version of OS X. You’re fighting the toolchain right now if you’re wanting to go back beyond Lion (or even Mountain Lion in some cases). Nudges from paying customers to ensure you’re supporting the latest and greatest OS releases are a great way of forcing you to keep moving forward with the platform1.
When it comes to the bigger picture though, this is perhaps my final thought… If you were Apple, and there were notable changes coming to OS X2 - a platform that has only recently started moving at a similar pace to iOS - that you wanted to ensure that developers adopted, tested against and shipped, in a more timely manner wouldn’t this be the way you did it too?