iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

Summary: The pipe dream of OTA updates may be coming for iOS 5 and beyond, but is cutting the cord really worth it? If Apple gives up approval for updates to partners the entire process will change, and not for the better.

SHARE:

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

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Mobile OS

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

35 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Unless, of course...

    By "over the air" they mean: "wireless download on a wi-fi network.
    jgpmolloy
    • That was my questio too

      @john@...

      D/L the image over wi-fi, verify it, and then install during the night or something similar. You surely do not want your mobile devices to require a desktop/notebook, when the trend is clearly away from these devices for many ordinary users. In addition, if you are in the road a lot, you cannot upgrade until you "return to base". This is utterly stupid. The network/cloud should be your base, if you so choose.
      Economister
      • Or you may download update via cellular network if you will reserve like ..

        @Economister: ... like 0.5 GB of typical 2 GB monthly plan (or 5 GB, "unlimited", whatever).<br><br>Nothing to do specifically with cellular networks except for it is usual 3G data connection.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

        @Economister
        <i> In addition, if you are in the road a lot, you cannot upgrade until you "return to base?.</i>

        Personally I take my notebook with me, if I am going to be aways for more than a day. Even if I have to connect to a hotel?s network via ethernet, it is faster than what I may get over the cellular network.
        Rick_K
      • I though my...

        @denisrs

        post advocated wi-fi. Now, I am not saying that public wi-fi would be a trivial matter either. My main point is the required "tethering" to a personal computer. Ultimately, that will hurt Apple.
        Economister
      • If you also need your notebook....

        @Rick_K

        that works fine. The functionality of iOS/Android/etc devices will continue to improve however. You may need your notebook less and less while on the road, in which case bringing it may become an unnecessary burden.
        Economister
      • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

        @Economister If you are on the road that much you most likely have a system with you as well so that isn't a very good argument.
        non-biased
  • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

    even if it were over 3g - whats that got to do with the carriers?

    if its from apple server to our phones? its just a download file which unpacks and updates the OS

    no different than downloading an app really
    mcfaul@...
    • Here, download this

      <ul><I>No different than downloading an app really</I></ul>
      That's a pretty big "really". To my knowledge, no mere app downloaded from anywhere has the power to re-write the firmware on my device. I'm inclined to leave it that way.
      Robert Hahn
    • &quot;no different than downloading an app really&quot;

      @mcfaul@...

      Try explaining that to the thousands of Android users who don't get upgrades, and heaven forbid if you have WP7!
      jgpmolloy
    • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

      @mcfaul@?
      I believe that if the carriers deliver the update, it would give them a chance to add additional software to the update. Kind of the same situation as WP7SOS phones are dealing with now. I would prefer to get an update directly from the manufacturer. Being that I have a broadband internet connection, I have no issue with getting update through iTunes.
      Rick_K
      • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

        @Rick_K
        Worse yet the carriers decide to alter software or remove it all together. Perfectly good phones have been neutered by Verizon for years just to turn around and charge you extra to get the functionality that the phone manufacture delivered in the phone back. i.e., GPS becomes VZ navigator I once had a phone that Verizon removed the Blue tooth capability from so they could charge you to back up or send pictures.
        bws605
      • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

        @Rick_K I too would rather keep the carriers out of it. There has never been an update that I just couldn't wait until I got back to my PC to install. I don't want to rely on a clean install OTA. I have absolutely no issue with tethering to my PC if for no other reason than I know it's backed up before the update process started. It good piece of mind in case there is an issue.
        non-biased
  • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

    Why would it invite carriers into the process? I'm sure Apple would be the ones sending the updates since they make all iOS devices. The only reason Android/webOS has staggered updates is because Google and HP have other companies make phones with their OS and therefore they rely on those companies to update the phones.
    firstEncounter
    • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

      @firstEncounter

      Actually, as seen by the issues MS had to work through with WP7, it is indeed the carriers that are usually the culprits on holding things back. Even though it is MS sending the update.
      SlithyTove
      • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

        @SlithyTove

        Again, Microsoft doesn't control the entire WP7 ecosystem, so they're in the same situation as Google and HP. Apple controls everything about iOS.
        firstEncounter
      • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

        @firstEncounter

        Apple doesn't own the carriers and it's the carriers, not the manufacturers, that are generally the hold-up.

        Apple's advantage here has to do with Steve's initial bargaining and very little to do with the "whole ecosystem" point. James is pointing out that switching to OTA might give the carriers another chance to meddle.
        SlithyTove
    • Well...

      @firstEncounter

      you either go wi-fi or you doom all your iOS devices to be PC (OSX/Windows that is) accessories, which is probably a bad long term strategy. I bet you the number of people who would like to ditch their PCs altogether is steadily growing.
      Economister
      • RE: iOS to get OTA updates? Beware the dreaded carrier approval

        @Economister I am sure a lot of people dream of ditching their PCs but we are not there yet for most people.
        non-biased
  • HAHA

    Yea right, Steve Jobs would never allow the cell companies to handle the updates, I can see this coming over Wifi straight from Apple but never from ATT OR V... that's the reason I left Android, hated waiting on Tmo for the updates..
    Hasam1991