Most people who buy iPhones and iPads haven't been pairing them with their computers often enough to maintain helpful backups.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Apple cuts the cord

August 7, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

Starting this fall, iPhone and iPad users won't need to plug their iPhones and iPads into their computers every night for updates and backups.

What's that? Say again? Who says iPhone and iPad users ever DID plug their devices into their computers every night to start with?

And that's the problem. Apple's own findings show that most people who buy iPhones and iPads haven't been pairing them with their computers often enough to maintain helpful backups and to get updates on the operating system. The computer uses Apple software called iTunes (on Windows PCs and Macs) to do all the backups and updates.

(By "backups," Apple means making complete copies of everything on the device. "Updates" refer to improved versions of apps you've already purchased -- app updates are always free -- as well as an occasional upgrade of the operating system itself, also free.)

Pairing, which Apple has been calling "syncing" (for "content synchronization," I suppose), is easy enough to do -- you simply plug the iPhone 's or iPad's white USB cable into the computer, and iTunes automatically does the rest -- but it has a major problem. In fact, two major problems.

The first one is obvious. If you forget to sync your iPhone or iPad with your computer, it just won't happen. This is the bog so many iPhone and iPad users find themselves in when their device is lost or stolen; since they've failed to do the required sync, Apple can't help them restore the contents.

The second problem leapfrogs on the first one. Basically, it goes like this: Since their introduction, iPhones and iPads have needed a "mother ship" -- your computer -- to stay current.

This is dumber than dumb, and Apple knows it as well as you and I do. Both the iPhone and the iPad are designed to do all sorts of things wirelessly, over the Internet, while you're awake or asleep. Why shouldn't they be able to do those backup and update things, too?

All they need is a big data-collection funnel in the sky, something that would work up in the clouds.

And that's what's coming. Apple calls it iCloud. Apple's revised operating system for the iPhone and iPad (they use the same code) will work with this big data funnel in the sky -- this weirdly named "iCloud" -- once your iPhone or iPad has a new operating system. You won't need to buy a new phone or a new iPad or any new hardware. It's all done in software.

The new operating system is called iOS 5. It's likely to be released in September. It has dozens of other features besides iBackup and iUpdate -- sorry, iMadeUp those names -- and it's probably going to change a lot of habits. I'll explain what I mean next week.