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iOS 5 Features Spotlight – WiFi Sync

by on August 16th, 2011

The countdown to iOS 5 continues, and I’m sure you’ve been looking forward to this one (hopefully). WiFi syncing has been one of the most highly anticipated features coming to iOS 5 and it’s little surprise. Of all the modern mobile operating systems, iOS is really the last one that requires the device to be tethered from setup to day-to-day use in order to make use of all its features (even webOS can live a tether-free life!). With OTA updates and wireless syncing, iOS finally cuts the cord. But how does it stand up to wireless syncing solutions on other platforms? How does it stand up to the iOS jailbreak predecessor?

In short? Very poorly. But before I go into my rant, let me describe how it works. Once the iPad’s been updated to iOS 5, iTunes will have a number of new options available when you plug it into your Mac or PC, one of which is to allow wireless syncing. Whenever the device is seen in the same WiFi network as your desktop, the device will appear in the same place it usually appears in iTunes as if it were plugged in. Clicking on the Sync button (as you normally would in tethered mode) will begin the wireless sync. Even if you tether the device to the desktop, the sync will still be done over WiFi (as far as I can tell). Don’t want to sync while you’re at the computer? Go into System Settings –> General –> iTunes WiFi Sync and you’ll see a sync button there too.

Now, the best part of the new sync feature (and this is the same for lame-old wired syncing) is that the system isn’t locked during sync. The entire system is available for use during sync, which is a huge leap forward for the device. Unfortunately, this is about all the praise I can give for the feature at this time.

What’s wrong with wireless syncing? Well, simply put, everything. Even from Beta 1, the wireless sync feature was unstable, often times dropping the connection to the device and skipping transfers of podcast updates, music or other large files to the device. Successive attempts at syncing didn’t change the situation.

Mind you, iOS 5 is still in beta (though over a 2 month old beta), and that simply means not all the features are fully baked. Still, I make a habit of testing wireless syncing (both from a blank device as well as after a full sync) with each beta to see if the feature has improved. I’m still shocked and dismayed that successive iterations of the beta haven’t improved this feature. Maybe the next one will be better. Maybe.

Here’s a quick pro-tip though. Regardless of how adventurous you may feel, don’t try to sync the device from scratch. Wireless syncing will always take longer than wired syncing, and pushing gigs and gigs of data to a device can take a toll on both the processor and the battery. Best to sync by wire first, then feel free to sync wirelessly afterwards.

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Posted under: iPad Firmware

  • Sentient_Robot

    Reviewing beta software and giving it a rough go is pretty lame. Apple’s betas are true betas- some things work, others don’t, and they do a good job of highlighting these issues in the change log. I’m fairly confident it’ll work flawlessly when released next month.

  • http://westcoastglaucoma.com Rob Schertzer, MD, MEd, FRCSC

    Did you try OTA syncing via iCloud instead of to iTunes? I don’t see that much of a benefit to going wireless if just to the same computer that I would plug into since, as you point out, direct connection will always be faster. But Apple also released a beta of iCloud that allows the iOS devices to sync OTA directly to your iCloud account, getting rid of the need to sync to iTunes at all. That’s what I am looking forward to when out of beta.

  • Me

    its called beta for a reason… why comment until its complete? Do you ever write anything positive? And “pro” tip… please! Because you own an iDevice and post to a blog hardly makes you a pro. I guess cause I change my own oil, I’m a mechanic!