9to5Mac reports that Apple has plans to eventually include within iOS 5 the ability to download iOS updates over the air. As it stands now, iOS updates can only be downloaded via iTunes on a tethered connection. While the feature isn’t expected to be available when iOS 5 launches this Fall, sources relay that Apple is planning to add that functionality in subsequent iOS 5.x updates.
Just like tethering in iOS 3, Apple has the technology but cannot just unleash it everywhere. Apple and Verizon Wireless are said to have been in talks over these wireless software updates since early this year. Sources could not comment on whether or not Apple is negotiating similar deals with AT&T or international iPhone carriers.
With updates sometimes checking in at over 600MB, one has to wonder just how convenient an over the air update of that magnitude would actually be. 9to5Mac speculates, and it makes sense, that only small incremental updates would be available over the air while more substantial updates would remain iTunes-only downloads.
Another issue is that updates over iTunes first back up an iOS device in the event that an update fails. An over the air update would need a “cloud-based backup system” – which of course leads one to naturally point to Apple’s massive data center in North Carolina.
Obviously, if this is a feature in iOS 5, it should conceivably make its way to iPad and iPod touches as well. That means iTunes may no longer be a needed conduit for updating iOS devices in the future. It would also mean that the iPad could finally be a stand alone device.
For years the requirement that iPods and iPhones need to be tethered to an iTunes account has helped Apple accumulate a huge installed base of iTunes users. While it’s unlikely that Apple is going to give that built-in advantage anytime soon, enabling carriers to offer relatively small updates to iOS users over the air seems like a decent compromise.