Untethering your iOS Device

Listening to the most recent This Week in Tech, I heard the same thing from certain panel members that I hear from tech journalists all of the time: I just don’t want to plug in my iPhone/iPad/iPod into the computer (or something like that).

The want/need for an untethered experience for your iOS device seems to be the holy grail/unicorn-wearing-leprechaun-trousers for certain members of the technology press for the “one thing” that Apple needs to do to get them to drool overĀ iOS.

It’s easy to get into the mindset that your needs are what the greater consumer needs, but many times that just isn’t the truth. I can think that people need to ditch Windows for Linux so that I don’t have to worry about supporting that OS, but that isn’t the reality of the situation.

The “tethering” of your iOS device to some computer serves some very important purposes that are just NOT REASONABLE AT THIS TIME to do over a wireless network (which is most often what is brought up as the alternative).

First is content movement back and forth between the device and the customer’s machine. Music, movies, pictures, apps, settings, etc. all travel back and forth between the iOS device and the computer via a USB cable. That can be GBs worth of data going back and forth at any one time, and doing that both in a timely fashion and consistently really is only doable over a cable.

Sure, streaming services can provide many of those services (as far as content is concerned) but with the reality of data caps and inconsistent network connectivity, that’s a non-starter for most consumers. Media stored on the persons device is infinitely more reliable than that streamed from the internet. Now, if you don’t use your device for media then who cares?

The second, and more importantly to me, is data backup. When you sync your iOS device with iTunes it makes a complete backup of the entire system. The importance of that cannot be overstated. I have had my wife’s iPhone fail (long story), but all of the data was safe because I had been able to backup the device the night before and I could restore it back to its former settings with no problem.

Professionals talk of getting consumers to backup their information, and Apple is maybe the most successful at this by, to an extent, forcing customers to plug in their iOS device to do certain things and doing a backup at that time. Working for the Apple Store for four months (shout out to all of my friends at Bayshore), I liked being able to tell someone that they will be able to get all of their stuff back just by plugging into iTunes are restoring from the last backup. That’s powerful and useful.

Finally, for now, networking is hard. Getting a wireless network up and running can be hard work depending on the house, the internet coming in, and the hardware you are using. People are reluctant to spend money on decent networking equipment, but if you are going to be pushing GBs of data over that wireless network to sync information and make backups then you are going to need some beefy networking equipment along with better standards supporting higher throughput.

The idea of having an untethered experience with your iOS device is awesome and I hope it comes one day, but there is a lot of infrastructure work to be had before that reality is going to come to pass. Apple is a forward-thinking, but also very conservative company that will more than likely not be moving to this until the very last moment that they have to, and when they can ensure that it will work well for customers.

Besides, think how fast things will be when we finally get Thunderbolt?