Two Wish List Items For iOS 5; Over The Air Updates And Patching

Apple today issued the latest update for the iOS 4.3 operating system bringing the version number to 4.3.1. The download size for most was around 666MB so, with many users owning both an iPhone and an iPad, quite a few people are looking at downloading over 1.3 GB of data to get the update for both of their devices.

This particular update offers fixes for four issues on various devices (with some of the fixes only applying to one device).  So why doesn’t Apple offer individual software patches for iOS rather than having to download the entire operating system every time?  We aren’t bitching about it and there is obviously a good reason for doing it this way.  It would just be interesting to know what that is.

For larger updates it makes sense that Apple chooses to offer the entire operating system for download. But for a small patch like this?  There are apparently around 160 million iOS devices in the wild around the world.  Not all of them will update to the new version of iOS, but even so, a fairly sizable proportion will.  That’s a large amount of data.

However, if Apple are going to introduce over the air updates for mobile devices at some point in the future, and it has been rumored that they will do so in iOS 5 along with wireless syncing, then it’s a fair assumption that they will have to start offering patches for iOS devices as well.  If AT&T had a fit over MMS on the iPhone, then you can imagine that large iOS updates would send them into a catatonic state.

We know that entire mobile OS downloads are not restricted just to Apple, but if anyone could offer the reason(s) why the patches are done this way, we’d be very happy and grateful to hear it.

Complete, Not Patchy…

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  • Steve

    Guessing is completely correct. OSX updates are done exactly the same way. You get a new program and you get the whole thing. Avoids dependency hell. Avoids one update messing up another. In practice, it works.
    And re the question of why not over the air, what are you going to do when you lose the network half way through an update?

  • Prof. Peabody

    I’d love the idea of over the air updates but even though it’s lovely that we are now allowed to tether our tablets to our phones, daily use of this feature has only made me realise how terrifically slow wireless cell data is. It works, but the practical speed is something like dial-up in most areas and there are also dead zones. I think most will still prefer to update at home, and that this feature would not significantly free the iPhone from the computer overall.

  • Chester Burton Brown

    With every passing year 1 GB feels like a smaller and smaller amount of data. Bandwidth is opening up for most of us, even if in grudging fits and starts depending on the ISP. As this trend continues I imagine a 1.3 GB update with be as much of a no-brainer as 1.3 MB patch.

  • Guessing

    A few guesses:

    – Easy way to maintain compatibility, it’s all one big signed and certified package.
    – Keeps iOS from dependency hell, ie. this version of airplay only works with this version of the network stack, which you need to download, followed but the baseband update for… you get the idea.
    – The way the OS image is stored and maintained in flash on the device, big updates are easy, backups are easy.