Today in Apple history: Apple embraces over-the-air iOS updates

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ios 5
Over-the-air iOS updates took iTunes out of the equation (and leveled the playing field with Android).
Photo: Apple

May 4: Today in Apple history May 4, 2011: Reports circulate that Apple is negotiating with carriers to bring over-the-air updates to iOS, beginning with iOS 5.

Such a move would free iPhone owners from using iTunes to get updates for their devices. That means no more plugging the device in to their computers via USB to download the latest iOS software.

Bringing ‘PC-free’ updates to iOS

As I’ve noted before in “Today in Apple history,” the process of upgrading to the latest software has gotten immeasurably easier over the years. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Mac updates came on floppy disks or, later, CD-ROMs. These demanded premium prices, even when they weren’t full releases. This also meant Apple issued fewer updates because of the physical costs involved in shipping them out.

Right from the start, users could download iOS updates due to the operating system’s smaller file size compared to the Mac operating system. (iOS was also available for free to iPhone users. iPod touch customers paid $10 for the first couple of updates.)

Still, getting the latest iOS update via iTunes proved a cumbersome process. Android, by contrast, offered over-the-air updates as far back as February 2009.

In the end, the rumors of OTA iOS updates circulating on May 4, 2011, turned out to be right on the money. In November, Apple issued iOS 5.0.1, its first “PC-free” update for its mobile operating system.

An important year for updates

2011 turned out to be a significant year in terms of how Apple issued all its software updates. That year’s Mac OS X Lion marked the first time Apple didn’t initially announce physical distribution on CD or DVD-ROM of a new Mac operating system.

Instead, users downloaded the operating system at home. Alternatively, they could do it through an in-store download at an Apple store. Later, Apple gave users the option to buy a preloaded USB flash drive online.

What are your most memorable software-updating memories? Do you remember iOS before over-the-air updates? Leave your comments below.