Rumor has it that Apple may finally be prepared to cut the cord with iOS 5 and introduce over the air (OTA) updates that don't require a physical USB connection to a PC. It sounds like an awesome step forward, and it would help the iPad live up to its "post-PC era" title, but only if Apple does it right.
Reports are circulating that Apple is negotiating with Verizon to work out the details of wireless updates. Although the rumors focus on Verizon, it seems safe to assume that Apple will not roll out OTA updates in IOS 5 unless AT&T is also on board.Unlike the current iOS update process, OTA updates will put a significant strain on wireless carrier networks.
Apple's Jobs has described the iPad as a 'post-PC era' device, which is a hard pill to swallow when you can't actually use the Apple tablet unless you also have a PC of some sort to connect with for syncing and updates. Apple needs to have some sort of OTA syncing and updating process in order to free the iPhone and iPad from the shackles of the PC.
Apple shouldn't rush into it, though, just to keep up with the proverbial 'Joneses'. Maybe OTA updates aren't all they're cracked up to be. Updates from Microsoft for Windows Phone 7 devices seem to be plagued with serious issues, and updates for Android devices are delayed for months thanks to the whims of both the smartphone manufacturer and the wireless provider--which is why almost six months after its release only four percent of Android devices have the Android 2.3 'Gingerbread' OS.
Contrast that with the OS 4.3.3 update Apple released yesterday to address the concerns with iOS logging of location tracking data. Because Apple pushes the update directly to users through iTunes, that update will probably be on 90-plus percent of compatible iOS devices within a week.
Apple needs to make sure it does OTA right, and that delivering OTA updates meets the high expectations that Apple customers have for ease of use and user experience. Bottom line, it has to "just work".
In order for OTA updates to work with iOS, Apple first needs to learn the difference between an 'update' and an 'upgrade'. Every time there is even a minor update to iTunes or iOS, Apple seems to force users to download and reinstall the entire application over again. That means that something that should be a minor tweak or patch of a few megabytes ends up being a 500MB-plus commitment. Neither Verizon nor AT&T can handle millions of iPhone or iPad owners simultaneously downloading a 600MB iOS update.
Apple also can't embrace OTA if it has to answer to the wireless carriers, or if the wireless carriers will have any ability to delay or throttle the updates. Apple better learn from the mistakes of its rivals.
Honestly, I don't mind having to connect my iPhone or iPad to my PC every once in awhile to download some massive major upgrade to iOS, but it would be nice to get incremental updates pushed wirelessly. The real value, though, will be if Apple also introduces a cloud-based iTunes so my iOS devices can stay synced with music, movies, and other content without having to connect with a PC as well.