Why Over-the-Air updates is a game changer for iOS

iOS 5 is just around the corner and developers have been using the beta version for a few weeks now. It’s coming with oodles of new features ranging from a shortcut to your camera when your screen is locked to a completely revamped Notification center. You can read more on that here. What I find most interesting is that Apple has finally decided to cut the cord and is implementing or upgrading many features to be completely wireless. Though most of these features have been extensively covered and were, for the most part, predicted by the user community, some features are real game changers for iOS where as they might not have been for other platforms.

  • Setup Screen – As described by Steve Jobs himself during the Keynote, all of us have been confronted to the rather frustrating initial contact that we have with our new iPhone when we boot it up for the first time :
    Connect to iTunes

    . With iOS 5, new users will be able to turn their devices on and face a much more welcoming screen :

    iOS 5 Setup

    The Wizard works great for all cases – new users, returning users, users with two or moer devices, etc. With the new “Restore from iCloud” option, it’s never been easier to install or restore a new device and for those who prefer restoring from a backup, that’s of course also available.

  • Wireless Syncing – Perhaps the most envied feature that iPhones users wanted from their Android counterpart is wireless syncing. This is a huge win for the user. No more needing to spend 10 to 15 minutes on your computer every time you want to transfer a song you bought on the way home to your computer and/or iPad, no more long syncs that trigger unnecessary backups, no more traveling with that cable everywhere you go.

    But that’s not all… another feature that Android users have had is the ability to remotely install apps onto their device from their computer. This is a huge convenience that iPhone users did not have. (Keep in mind that Appsfire has offered this feature for iOS users for over a year now; I encourage you to install Appsfire on your device, create your account on Appsfire.com, and download apps easily on your iPhone by finding the app either from Appsfire.com or from the Appsfire app.) Now, whenever you download something from your computer, and assuming you have iCloud set up, that app, song, or movie will instantly be downloaded to all of your devices – no sync required at all.

    This combination of wirelessly syncing your device and instant propagation of your purchases across all of your iOS real-estate is extremely powerful and convenient – a game changer for the user.

  • Over-the-Air iOS Updates – Another feature that some other platforms have had for a while. However, iOS users have had the painstaking task of connecting their device (or devices) to iTunes, downloading large files, usually around or above 600MB, backing up their entire device (it takes a while to back up a 64GB iPad), and finally, wait for the update to download and install… which can take a while if your connection isn’t super fast. The entire process is quite tedious.

    Oh, and if you don’t own a Mac, you can’t upgrade your iOS – ever.

    Recently, according to David Chartier‘s inside sources, about 50% of the phones returned at the Apple Genuis Bar have never been synced to iTunes – which means that their iOS versions were never updated either.

    Let’s take the number of iPhones Apple has sold since launch date to see how many phones this might represent :

    iPhone sales in millions
    Graph showing millions of iPhones sold. Each color represents a major iOS release
    Source: Apple Press Releases

    That’s a lot of iPhones sold. Of these, some are no longer in use, some are owned by users who update their devices, and some are owned by users who can not or choose not to update their devices. The point is, depending on the distribution of these factors, we are going to have more or less un-updated iOS devices. My goal is to estimate the number of devices that are not running the latest major point-release version of iOS.

    As a first scenario, let’s assume the following parameters :
    – 2 out of 5 iPhones are retired
    – Of those still in use, 1 out of 20 devices make it to the Genius Bar, of which half are not updated
    – Of those not sent to the Genius Bar, 1 out of 10 users never update their devices
    – everyone else updates their devices to the latest major point release

    In this scenario, we are left with :

    74 400 000 active phones
    – 1 860 000 iphones sent to the Genius Bar and are not updated
    – 7 068 000 iphones that can’t or won’t update
    = 65 472 000 active iphones that are updated
    = 8 929 000 active iphones running an older version of iOS
    = 12% of iPhones

    Now, let’s take a more pessimistic estimate. Let’s say :
    – 3 out of 5 iPhones are retired
    – Of those still in use, 1 out of 15 devices make it to the Genius Bar, of which half are not updated
    – Of those not sent to the Genius Bar, 1 out of 5 users never update their devices
    – everyone else updates their devices to the latest major point release

    In this scenario, we are left with :

    51 600 000 active phones
    – 1 720 000 iphones sent to the Genius Bar and are not updated
    – 9 632 000 iphones that can’t or won’t update
    = 40 248 000 active iphones that are updated
    = 11 352 000 active iphones running an older version of iOS
    = 22% of iPhones

    These scenarios average out to about 10 million iPhones, still active and not running the latest major release-point of iOS. That’s a lot of iPhones! Also, this graph does not include iPod and iPad sales (yet) which will obviously increase this estimated number. (It is common to see people using iPads as their only computing device thus making iOS upgrades tedious.)

    With so many iPhones potentially out of date, good developers (or those who need to reach the greatest audience) must support older versions of iOS. This translates to more work (longer hours) to support or by-pass older iOS versions, introducing bugs whilst trying to code for these differences, reducing the quality of the app because the developer must use less RAM (iPhone 3G had 128MB RAM vs the iPhone 4’s 512MB RAM), creating (or budgeting) different resolution graphics (retina vs non-retina), and using outdated or older iOS APIs. In some cases, it means the developer can’t harness the most recent advances and features that accompany every new iOS.

    It’s very tempting for a developer to simply say “Sorry, you must have the latest version of iOS to run this app.” But in most cases, this decision will translate in less downloads, less sales, and overall dissatisfaction. It’s simply not an option! With iOS5’s introduction of OTA iOS updates, the barrier to update the iOS is significantly decreased and it becomes acceptable for developers to require the latest iOS to run an app. Once this barrier drops, developers can start spending all their time supporting the latest advances available in iOS knowing full-well that their users will be able to profit from them easily by updating their iOS. For high-end graphic apps (think 3D games) or “heavy” apps, this is a game changer.

  • Overall, iOS5 is a game changer. Its use of wireless technology will change the way users and developers use iOS devices.

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