Apple loves control and that is why iOS device owners dutifully plug the device into iTunes to get each software update. The pipe dream of over-the-air (OTA) updates may be coming for iOS 5 and beyond, but is cutting the cord really worth it? That step requires the involvement of mobile carriers, and if Apple gives up approval for each update to partners the entire process will change, and not necessarily for the better.
In this Post-PC age, it makes sense to remove the computer from the update process. Smartphones are now autonomous and do not need a computer for any reason. Having to plug an iPad or iPhone into one to update the device software has grated on the nerves of a lot of owners for years. It seems like a better option would be for Apple to push each update OTA like its competitors so owners can just update and go.
An OTA update process would require a change from the way Apple does it currently. Each update is a complete firmware image change, meaning the update file is hundreds of megabytes big. That holds true if Apple is releasing a minor change, like the latest that fixes the location tracking thing, or if the update is a major revision. In this world of data caps and sometimes slow connections, such large updates could tie the device up for a while. Apple would need to release incremental updates like everyone else to reduce the size of minor updates.
Most importantly, OTA updates would invite the carriers into the process, and that can't have good results. Every platform with OTA updates is plagued by factors outside the platform owner's control, such as carriers delaying approval of an update or even refusing to carry one. Apple could be opening a can of worms allowing the carriers into the update process, and would have to maintain control over all aspects of it for it to work. That might be easier said than done, even for Apple.
Updates without a computer seem like the way to go, but be careful what you wish for. You just might get it and be stuck.
Image credit: Flickr user daniel.julia