iOS 9, the next version of Apple's iPhone/iPad OS software, was unveiled at WWDC 2015 at the start of June. But for most owners of Apple devices, that exciting glimpse of iOS 9's new features was a bit of a tease - because they won't be able to get hold of iOS 9 for months. (When will iOS 9 launch to the general public? We discuss the iOS 9 launch date in more depth in a separate article, but probably in September, alongside the iPhone 7 or iPhone 6s Plus, and the iPhone 6s. We're almost sure they'll be unveiled on 9 September, then go on sale around 10 days later.)

But it is possible to get iOS 9 right now, as we will explain in this article, thanks to developer preview betas and, as of 9 July, a public beta programme. Whether it's a good idea to do so is another matter; we'll also talk about the pros and cons of installing beta software, and the reasons why you may prefer to wait a few months for the official public launch of iOS 9 instead.

This guide explains how to get the beta version of iOS 9, not the final official version. If you want to update to the final version of iOS 9, see How to update an iPhone or iPad to iOS 9. You may also like to find out whether your iPhone or iPad supports the new software, and read about the new iOS 9 features you can expect on your device.

Readers who enjoy this article are also likely to enjoy our iOS 8 vs iOS 9 comparison preview.

How to get iOS 9 early: How to get the iOS 9 beta

There are a handful of ways to install the iOS 9 beta on your iPhone or iPad, but the simplest is to join Apple's new Public Beta Programme, or register with the iOS Developer Program.

How to get iOS 9 early: How to get the iOS 9 Developer preview

Apple gets app developers to try out beta versions of iOS 9 for a few months before it unleashes the final software on the public, and for the first time it's also letting the public try the beta of iOS 9. These betas are test versions - unfinished versions of iOS 9 with pretty much all the features that will make it into the official iOS 9 build, but probably with a few cosmetic differences… not to mention some glitches and problems that will need to be fixed.

In other words, don't expect a perfect user experience. In particular, don't expect existing apps (ones that you may rely on, and which may have worked great with iOS 8) to work perfectly with iOS 9. A huge issue for beta users of iOS 8 was that popular cross-platform messaging service WhatsApp was unusable, crashing upon opening - it's not something developers can address and fix prior to the official release of iOS 9, so it's something to keep in mind.

One of the points of the beta test programme is to give developers a chance to make their apps work with the new OS. A lot of non-developers joined the iOS 7 beta and then gave low App Store reviews to the apps that didn't yet work with it, which is rather unfair. We would politely request that people not do that - it can really damage a developer's ranking.

(Update, 21 Aug: We're pleased to report that Apple has officially stepped in to stop people running beta software from giving apps bad reviews - or any reviews at all.)

But it could be worse than just a couple of apps not working right. Sometimes people find that certain models struggle to cope with a beta OS in any meaningful way, and you may find that your device is effectively bricked until the next beta comes out and fixes the problem. Experienced beta users always advise you to install a beta version of iOS on a secondary or spare device - an older (but still compatible) iPod touch rather than your main iPhone, say.

Anyway. If you know what you're getting into and still want to try the iOS 9 beta right now, you can register as an Apple developer and join the iOS Developer Program, which costs $99 a year.

Go to Apple's developer site and enrol using your Apple ID.

Read next: How to write apps for the Apple Watch and How will iCloud Drive work in iOS 9

How to get iOS 9 early: How to join the Public Beta

There is now a public beta of iOS 9, a new programme that Apple has previously stayed away from. It asks any members of the public who are willing to install iOS 9 on their devices, bugs and all, and feedback on any bugs and issues that need to be ironed out. Apple has experienced several issues with final public launches in the past, so it's likely that the new public beta programme is a bid to prevent that from happening again.

You can sign up to the programme by clicking Sign Up on the Apple Beta page and use your Apple ID.

We can't stress how important it is to back up your device before you download and install iOS 9, or better still, use a secondary device that isn't your main iPhone or iPad to try the beta. Not only will that mean you won't lose everything if something goes wrong while the beta is installing, it also means you'll be able to go back to iOS 8.4 should you find that you don't like iOS 9 after all or that it's too buggy.

We talk you through backing up your device in our how to back up an iPhone or iPad article.

Then, all you'll need to do is click Sign Up on the Apple Beta page and use your Apple ID.

You'll then be able to log in to the Beta Software Program, and click Enroll your iOS device. From there, you'll be instructed to go to beta.apple.com/profile on your iOS device in order to download and install a configuration profile. That will make the beta available in the Settings app, under General, Software Update.

How to get iOS 9 early: How to install the iOS 9 beta if you're a developer

Before downloading the iOS 9 beta, back up the device you're going to install the beta on. That way you can restore it fairly easily if something goes seriously wrong.

Sign into the iOS Dev Center using the Apple ID you used in the previous step.

Register your Apple device's UDID (the easiest way to find out your UDID is to plug the device into iTunes, click on the device's icon in the top right-hand corner, view the Summary tab and click on the Serial Number entry to get it to change to the UDID). Now you'll be able to download the appropriate version of the iOS 9 beta for your hardware - select the exact iPhone, iPod touch or iPad model you're using from the list.

Unzip the file that downloads to your Mac (this should produce a .IPSW file). Connect your device to iTunes (if it isn't already).

Hold Alt (on a Mac - it's Shift on a PC) and click the Restore iPhone button on the device's Summary tab (next to Check for Update). Select the .IPSW file from the previous step. iOS 9 will be installed on your iPad or iPhone after a few minutes.

Now you've got iOS 9, you'll want to read our top iOS 9 tips.

How to get iOS 9 before the official launch: The down sides of getting iOS 9 early

There are basically two down sides to grabbing iOS 9 early, but they're quite big.

  • Whereas downloading iOS 9 when it's publicly available will be free, registering as an iOS developer costs $99 (but once you’ve done this, getting the iOS 9 beta is free - so this point doesn’t apply to bona fide developers or anyone else who’s already registered for other reasons). Of course, if you're getting iOS 9 via the public beta, you won't have to pay.
  • The beta version of iOS 9 will probably be buggy and may make your Apple device a nightmare to use, even if you opt for the free public beta.

On the other hand, getting the iOS 9 beta will give you some serious bragging rights among your Apple-loving friends, and let you decide for yourself whether you like the new features and very broad design ideas. (Bear in mind that it'll be sharpened up a fair bit before the final launch.)

It will probably also be easier to get rid of the beta than the full version when it launches.

See also: How to use Proactive in iOS 9

On the next page: Our older (and now unnecessary) advice, from before the public beta was launched, on how to install the iOS 9 beta if you're not a developer. For historical interest only, at least until the iOS 10 beta launches and you want to install that ahead of any public beta is launched.