Apple has long used the proxy of iTunes to push updates to its iOS devices: when a new software update is available, users need to plug their device in via USB, click update, and the new software version is downloaded and installed.
Smartphone competitors have long offered a different, more direct method for software updates that happens over-the-air. Specifically, when an update to Google’s Android operating system or HP/Palm’s webOS is released, users are provided an update notification and can update the software right on their phone. No computer required.
Now, Apple wants to provide the same convenience to their iPhone users and is preparing to provide over-the-air iOS updates, starting this fall.
Multiple sources (one as far back as March) say the new feature will debut in iOS 5, meaning iOS 5 will not come over-the-air but following point updates to it will. Just like tethering in iOS 3, Apple has the technology but cannot just unleash it everywhere. Apple and Verizon Wireless are said to have been in talks over these wireless software updates since early this year. Sources could not comment on whether or not Apple is negotiating similar deals with AT&T or international iPhone carriers.
The iOS-based AppleTV has been able to update itself without iTunes intervention so the hooks are obviously in iOS. Two things to note:
- Updates are now over 600MB. Apple would have to make these smaller to get the carriers to agree to push these things as they are. We believe that Apple will make the updates much smaller by using incremental patches rather than full OS downloads
- iTunes provides the backup to the iOS device so a failed update would need some sort of backup. We think there will be a Cloud-based backup system.
Obviously, if this is a feature in iOS 5, it should conceivably make its way to iPad and iPod touches as well. That means iTunes may no longer be a needed conduit for updating iOS devices in the future. It would also mean that the iPad could finally be a stand alone device.