So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

Summary: The idea that Apple hasn't been able to figure out how to wirelessly sync to iTunes is just silly.

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A 1999 ad for an Apple wireless access point.

I don't listen to much music on my iPhone. To me, my iPhone is primarily an email device, although I sometimes use it for network diagnostics, to read Kindle books, and to look up Wikipedia entries.

But I almost never launch the iPod application.

The thing is, I have a huge music library. Between my wife and I, we probably have thousands of albums.

So, why don't I listen to much music on the iPhone? One reason is that I actually prefer to use my listening time to listen to podcasts and audio books.

But the other reason is that it's just so incredibly annoying to have to grab my iPhone, run upstairs, find the cable, plug it into my iPhone and iMac, launch iTunes, and then start the sync process.

It's not that I'm lazy (okay, honestly, I am lazy), but it just seems insane that while everything else runs smoothly via WiFi (and has since the late 1990s), we still have to hook up a wire to sync our iOS devices to iTunes. Yes, I know you can wirelessly stream audio and video and download music and podcasts directly to iOS devices, but you still need a wire to officially sync to iTunes.

A Cult of Mac article bizarrely cites an anonymous source close to Apple who claims wireless synchronizing isn't easy.

Really? Really?!?

Wireless sync over WiFi is a very straightforward process. There are hundreds of applications that do wireless synchronizing of files now. Rsync, an open source synchronization tool designed for ultra-reliable synchronization, has been around since 1996.

So the idea that Apple hasn't been able to figure out how to wirelessly sync to iTunes is just silly. Good, solid source code has been around for years. Rsync is even part of the standard Mac OS X distribution.

As I see it, there are a few possibilities for why iTunes still requires a cable. The first is that iTunes just sucks so much that adding synchronization code would simply cause iTunes to 'splode.

In my opinion, while iTunes sucks (well, okay, that's almost everyone's opinion), the code base is probably relatively well-maintained and surely new features are added constantly. So, I don't think that's the reason. Update: I just had to share with you this comment from reader Jeff.Edsell, "iTunes was great for years. But somewhere around the time videos were added, the program entered its Fat Elvis phase." Priceless.

See also: The unofficial guide to installing iTunes 10 without bloatware

The second reason is that Apple's readying some massive cloud-based iTunes replacement and rather than enabling wireless syncing to a local Mac or PC, Apple wants to force everyone to their cloud space. Given how crappy Mobile Me has been over the years, let's hope that's not Apple's primary strategy.

The third and fourth possible reasons are that Apple has some security or authentication reason to force a cable connection, or that the company doesn't want the added tech support load of helping everyone understand how to make their wireless routers work. These are both nutty, since Apple's been selling wireless access points since 1999.

Trying to find logic in some of Apple's more restrictive moves is like trying to predict Charlie Sheen's next outburst. You know there's something going on inside there, but it defies sane analysis.

In any case, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

Hey, Apple, if you want some good sync code, here's the source tarball for rsync. Now, go code something useful.

Topics: iPhone, Apple, Hardware, iPad, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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93 comments
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  • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly

    The Cult of Mac article is referring to iPods, not the iPhone and iPad. There shouldn't be any problem implementing Wi-Fi sync on the iPhone, the feature has been available on jailbroken iPhones for quite some time now.
    vincentchow
    • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

      @vincentchow I've always synced through MobileMe with complete satisfaction and ease. I can do push notifications as well. I don't see the problem.
      dheady@...
    • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

      @vincentchow

      Certainly my WP7 phone does it without problems - perhaps you could get an app for that?

      ;-)
      tonymcs@...
      • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

        @tonymcs@... Haha... I was thinking the same thing.
        clcrockett
  • Apple once again locking out customers wants!

    If the iPhone was able to have third party apps not approved by Apple this would already be done by someone. Apple just doesn't care if you want this. They will give it to you when they see fit, so sit down and shut up!
    OhTheHumanity
    • Apple once again locking out customers wants!

      @OhTheHumanity
      No! I want it now!
      Wait.... I have it...... :D
      jb and loving it!

      chuckle :)
      rhonin
    • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

      @OhTheHumanity Plus they store music DRM free (shocker!) so opening up this part of the process to third parties might be problematic (for their business relationship with content providers).

      Now I know, you're thinking: "I don't give a monkey's about their relationship with anyone but me!".

      However it is those relationships (which are at best "strained") that let Apple offer all that content to you. So while you probably don't want those relationships to be too "cosy", you probably don't want them to be "broken" either. If studios are "grudgingly accepting" of Apple that's about the best Apple's user base can (reasonably) hope for.

      But do I think it is about time? Yes. I think Apple need to make sure the network is the right one, and not try and sync every time there's a sniff of WiFi (this would be bad). However, I'm sure this isn't beyond the wit of man (or in this case Apple) to figure out. What won't work is having to tell the remote Mac that this is happening (because then you'd have to trudge over to the Mac... and you might as well plug it in).

      Me? I charge my iOS devices by plugging them into my Mac's display - and they sync as I walk away.

      But I realise WiFi syncing is long overdue. (Even if I personally have no need of it)
      jeremychappell
      • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

        @jeremychappell Good points however on the question of content - only applies if you insist on using iTunes store. If you use a third party drm free content provider to buy your media then you have no relationship with apple's istore - therefore who cares if it breaks? Very little of the content on my touch is from iTunes store. So I don't think apple is trying to ensure that I am able to get content onto my device but rather they are trying to ensure that the content THEY sell gets onto my device in preference to other providers. Uncompetitive and restrictive if you ask me and not the content provider who is creating the scenario but Apple themselves.
        pitdroidtech
  • Why?

    Maybe I'm just a bit old school here but what really is the difference between having to plug in a smartphone to charge it each night or having to plug in a smartphone to charge and sync it every night? To me wireless syncing over wifi is not that big of a deal - my iPhone is jailbroken and I can enable wireless syncing over wifi at anytime but it's simply something I do not need.

    If you don't want to use iTunes there are alternatives out there and as for syncing your music library that can be done while you are sleeping - personally I think that - once again - you are nitpicking Apple and inciting the ABAers to gain page hits.
    athynz
    • Why?

      @athynz
      [i]what really is the difference between having to plug in a smartphone to charge it each night or having to plug in a smartphone to charge and sync it every night?[/i]

      You pretty much have to charge it every night, but you don't have to sync it every night. Charging doesn't require me to start my computer at all, at the end of the day it just gets plugged into the charger.

      But then I don't sync my phone all that regulaly, so the occassional trip upstairs to the computer/cable is no big deal.
      Will Farrell
      • You would still have to start your computer ...

        @Will Farrell

        ... to sync your iPhone via WiFi.

        WiFi sync would be really convenient for multiple devices syncing to iTunes. For example, if I buy some music on my iPad, I have to sync it back to my Mac then sync again to my iPhone. Big pain in the ass. If that could all happen over WiFi it would be simpler.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: Why?

        @Will Farrell True - I've gotten into the habit of plugging my iPhone into my computer every night to charge and if needed update my apps... but that's just convenient for me.

        @mrlinux There are ways around that limitation. Maybe it's just me but I find it to be just as easy to plug my iPhone into my desktop at night to charge... if I'm away from home I can always sync to my laptop if needed via a workaround or sync app updates OTA but with 32GB of storage I find I rarely change my media library on my iPhone more than once every few months. To me Gerwitz is simply nitpicking Apple yet again.
        athynz
      • Why?

        @Will Farrell
        Just an observation... whether you sync via wifi (and I do love the idea) or cable, you still need to have your pc running to access itunes or any media library! The only way you could do it without your pc is have your library stored in the cloud and do cloud-based sync. Maybe that's what Apple are looking toward.
        sweetchilly
    • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

      @athynz I can plug it into any outlet and charge it, however Syncing can only occur on one computer that is a big difference
      mrlinux
      • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

        @mrlinux You got the charger with you at all times?!
        jeremychappell
    • There is an electircally outlet in almost every corner ...

      @athynz ... of every room in your house. You want to recharge? Pick one.

      Lots of people shut down their computers when they are not using them so syncing nightly doesn't work for them.

      Those to charge their phones every night do so form a nightstand or a bathroom counter. Neither location is particularly good for your computer.

      In the end, it makes little sense to tether a wireless device to a physical connection in order to sync. What Appl eis concerned with is the possibility that you will become UNTETHERED form THEIR ecosystem.
      M Wagner
      • Thats a good point

        @mwagner@... [i]What Apple is concerned with is the possibility that you will become UNTETHERED form THEIR ecosystem[/i]
        Will Farrell
      • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

        @mwagner@... I don't understand this...can you elaborate?
        lelandhendrix@...
      • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

        @mwagner@... That's the crux of the issue. Well I'm untethered completely by not using iPhone at all. I own a touch which I use at home as a pocketable Internet terminal and little else. I use my Sony Ericsson satio for media (and camera but that's a whole other story about why I don't bother with an iPhone).
        pitdroidtech
    • RE: So, isn't it time, really, for iPhones and iPads to sync wirelessly with iTunes?

      @athynz I do exactly what you suggest. I have no need of the facility. But I think it should be available by now.

      I don't feel "nitpicked" (and I have a pretty low threshold for Apple nitpickyness - while I think ZDnet often guilty, I'm willing to give David a pass on this one).
      jeremychappell