Blog Post

Apple Previews iOS 4.2, Still Syncs Like iPhone OS 1.0

Reiterating much of the iOS presentation by Steve Jobs, a new web page adds a few details to what iOS 4.2 brings in November. As Steve Jobs said, “it’s all about iPad,” and that’s a shame because it should be about the cloud.

iOS 4.2’s major features include multitasking, folders, wireless printing, and AirPlay, the latter a renaming and expansion of AirTunes to include video. Of course, multitasking requires apps written for iOS 4, and can have the same drawbacks as on other iOS devices: performance and battery life. Folders are fine, and the enhancements to Mail, a unified inbox, threads, and opening attachments in third-party apps, will be great.

Minor improvements include Game Center, more language support for keyboards and dictionaries, accessibility enhancements, and improved security and remote management for enterprise. There’s also a welcome minor enhancement to Safari, allowing searching to “find and highlight specific words and phrases on large web pages.”

So why do I feel underwhelmed?

It’s because we now live in a world where millions of people have multiple iOS devices, and yet with few exceptions we still have to plug and unplug each device into a computer to synchronize data and programs. Subscribers to MobileMe can add, delete, and make changes to e-mail, contacts, bookmarks, calendars—but inexplicably not to do items—those changes populating to every device without even pressing a button, let alone using a cable.

For everything else, you have to plug one device after another into a computer, sync them, then maybe sync some of them again to get all changes to all devices. Even worse, some actions, like deleting podcasts, music, and video, have to be undertaken on the computer, lest they reappear on devices. Outside of iTunes, an ever-increasing number of applications require synchronization themselves, each of which has to be done over a local wireless network one at time.

While there have been alleged Magic 8-ball like e-mails from Steve Jobs promising wireless syncing  “someday,” some of us hoped that day would be in November. Are we really going to have to wait until the middle of 2011 before Apple addresses such a fundamental issue as modern synchronization of devices? If so, one wonders where Google (s goog) and Android will be on that feature then.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?

21 Responses to “Apple Previews iOS 4.2, Still Syncs Like iPhone OS 1.0”

  1. Photo management….

    Please explain to me why I need itunes to manage my photos? Why can’t I create albums on my device and move photos into them??

    I don’t keep all my photos in one place. I tend to have them distributed across multiple networked locations depending on what they are.

    Why can’t I simply drag and drop photos from, just about anywhere I keep them onto my device?

    I’d almost be willing to try a wireless server…almost…

  2. I have always loved the way Mobile Me syncs the info on all my Macs, and now my iPhones. That part was way ahead of its time. Most of all, I feel secure about the integrity of my data, that it’s always going to be there, and that to set up each new device automatically with all of my contacts, bookmarks, etc. requires only a login and password.

    So the only thing that’s not syncing is my music and my apps. Right now I almost always plug my iPhone into a computer when I’m near one to keep it charged. Why not sync while I’m at it? But count me in for being able to sync my music wirelessly. But on the cloud like Android does? What does that mean? What exactly does Android do? Where is your music stored? Does that mean all the info on my 2TB hard drive, much of which is audio and video needs to reside somewhere else? Where would that be? And how much would it cost? I’m just wondering how to accomplish this without costing way too much, without glitches, and without draining the battery of my device.

  3. Think this is impatience. Apple can’t move into the future too fast. The vast majority of their customers are mainstream iPod / iPhone users, still focused on the devices “just working.” If / when they go cloud, it’s got to be rock solid and reliable.

    I think it’s a safe bet Apple waits until millions more iDevices are sold, then they start with the cloud stuff. The new Apple TV is an example.

    Meanwhile, Dropbox is pretty slick. ;)

  4. “Subscribers to MobileMe can add, delete, and make changes to e-mail, contacts, bookmarks, calendars—but inexplicably not to do items”… It’s that last point that drives me nuts. I use iCal’s to-do feature religiously to help keep track of assignments for school (I’m a grad student) and it’s just plain silly that my to-do’s, which also show up in the Calendar web app in MobileMe online don’t sync to my iPhone. Fortunately I’ve found a free alternative for now, but I have to remember to sync the app (To-Do Lite) manually when ever I’ve got my iPhone & MBP on the same wifi network. Why the missing piece of the puzzle, Apple??? Speaking of syncing… [grabs iPhone, begins To-Do sync]

  5. Sorry you hate plugging in to sync. You do notice, don’t you, that the syncing process includes a complete backup of your iOS data, right? Which would take longer, and be a battery drain, if performed over the air. And that syncing also syncs stuff like video and audio from your iTunes library (which, again, over the air would take longer and suck power from your battery). OTA syncing sounds really good until you try to use it for anything beyond mail, calendar events, and contacts. Then it becomes problematic for the large majority of users.

    • If Time Machine can backup my MacBook wirelessly over the local network, why can’t my iPad use that same network to sync? In two months, my iPad will be capable of streaming video to my Apple TV, so I don’t see battery life as being an impediment.

      What’s really embarrassing for Apple is that it’s conceivable iOS users will still be using cables when Android and Windows Phones users will syncing with the cloud.

    • Aaron MacNeil

      I think that if they do implement wireless syncing for all of your data it would be best to do it at night while your charging your device and sleeping so it’s not to much of a hassle. I don’t really care about wireless syncing I normally sync my phone while I read web comics, update my twitter/Facebook, and read news articles and then when I’m done my iPhones usually done and I live on.

    • Actually, my first thought when I read about AirPlay streaming to AppleTV from iDevices was, “wow, now that’s an efficient way to drain your battery.” In general, wireless syncing is slower and yes, it is a battery drain. On my MacBook, I’ve used a utility that allows me to make the Time Machine backup only take place twice a day, rather than hourly, because I’d actually like to get some use out of it while it’s on battery. And the backup itself takes longer than one between my iMac and it’s connected external hard drive, and given that my iMac has 4 times the hard drive space, that’s pretty embarrassing.

      Now, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t welcome some sort of wireless solution, assuming it could come to come compromise between time/power drain and convenience. For instance, maybe it could only sync what’s changed each hour (up to a certain size limit), while still requiring you to sync semi-regularly for backups or larger transfers. Or, they could allow certain items/applications to sync wirelessly (again, within limits), like iBooks, Music, Videos, and third party applications through a new API.

      Either way, this is not a feature that I’m dying for, and it seems like a bit of hyperbole to gloss over the numerous and long-overdue features coming to the iPad in 4.2 by making a huge fuzz over a feature like this.

  6. Not a big deal to the non technical elite? Are you kidding me?

    So you are telling me the non-technical elite just love the the idea of finding a propriety cord, plugging their device into their computer…figuring how to use yet another program in order to control whats on their device?

    Wireless syncing is ALL about ease of use. The argument that this is not something that would sell well to casual users is absurd.

  7. I don’t want to sync with the Cloud as much as I want wireless sync. The only sync service I use on my computers is google sync with anything else end up with to many duplicates of contacts and dates. Googles solutions don’t really work and Apple’s are better but still not great.
    I hate to say this but syncing everything up is where Microsoft’e exchange is still the best solution out there (even if it is evil).
    Until Google gets this they will not have a real “office level email / doc competitor.
    WiFI syncing to my Mac would be great and should be there. I want that much more than sync to a cloud service that will mess things up and complicate my life.
    The real issue and what I hope Apple fixes is 10.7 / iOS5 itunes as part of the OS!

  8. It is past time that Apple put more control in the hands of the users to allow them to selectively sync what they want across multiple Macs without resorting to “the cloud”. It is the objective of the marketing department to sell you more “stuff” isn’t it????

  9. While this may be a huge deal to you & me, we are part of the technical elite who actually desire and even understand this stuff. The vast majority of consumers couldn’t care less. I have 200+ clients in Los Angeles, and 99% of them don’t even care about cloud syncing of their calendar/contacts. I’ve offered them te opportunity to sign up with MobileMe dozens of times, and they’re always like, “Nah, I’m good.” it just seems like most people don’t mind plugging in their devices for now. I’m sure that mentality will shift over time, but for now, your thinking & my thinking is really fringe thinking. So it makes sense that Apple hasn’t focused on this yet. But we know it’s coming someday.

    • What I find interesting is that MobileMe is very much in keeping with the “It just works!” principle attributed to so many Apple products. The current process for synchronizing an iPad and iPhone strikes me as anathema to that. Like MobileMe, or Time Machine, the user shouldn’t even need to be aware that it’s happening. I don’t understand what is taking Apple so long to transition the process, which, arguably, could be dated back to 2001 and the release of the original iPod.