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


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: Apple embraces over-the-air iOS updates 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 an iPhone into a computer via USB to download the latest version of iOS.

The first over-the-air iOS update

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 out the software.

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.

iOS 5.0.1 brings ‘PC-free’ updates to iPhones

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.

All in all, 2011 proved quite 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 retail location. Later, Apple gave users the option to buy a preloaded USB flash drive online.

These days, of course, Apple pushes out free versions of iOS, macOS, iPadOS, watchOS and tvOS, as well as firmware updates for devices like AirPods, HomePods and even battery packs. And just this week, Apple released its first-ever Rapid Security Response, a lightweight update that patched vulnerabilities in iPhones, iPads and Macs.

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


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