May 16, 2011, 2:14 PM — Though Apple first introduced the iPhone (and iOS, née iPhone OS) just a scant four years ago, the multitouch operating system already feels impressively mature. That maturity doesn't mean iOS is flawless; there's certainly room for improvement.
Apple will reveal some of the details of the next iteration of iOS during the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, where Apple says it will unveil the next iteration of its mobile operating system to developers. I'm optimistic that many long-awaited, high profile features will get announced at that time--the kind of features Macworld has devoted a lot of virtual ink to, like an overhaul for push notifications, cloud-based storage, wireless iTunes syncing, and such. But I'd find a few other, more subtle features just as exciting, and equally capable of improving the overall iOS experience.
The down-low on downloads
A few weeks ago, Navigon released an update to its MobileNavigator GPS app. Since the app packs in all of the map data for the United States, the upgrade weighed in at 1.56GB. But Navigon discovered a bug: The app was prompting users for their Apple IDs too often. So the company released an update--which weighed in at another 1.56GB.
I have a decent Internet connection at home. But downloading that much data takes hours--and gobbles up all kinds of bandwidth, too. It can't be cost-effective for Apple to send that massive download to millions of iOS users, either.
The software world solved this problem a long time ago with software patches. Patches are incremental downloads that include only the minimum code necessary to update to a new version--the equivalent of a downloading a few grammar tweaks instead of grabbing a new, full copy of a book.
Software patches were especially useful in the slow dial-up era, but just because we have more bandwidth now doesn't mean we ought to waste it. Hundreds of thousands of app updates are downloaded millions of times. It serves both Apple and its customers to make these downloads smaller and more efficient, and I hope such a patching approach makes its way into iOS 5. (It would be great if Apple applied the same approach to iOS updates, so that fixes for a simple location-caching bug wouldn't require a full 666MB download.)
Cast a spell