Whenever a new version of a software is announced, the first thing its current users do is head to the settings and check if their software has received an update to the newer version. Over the Air (OTA) updates are part and parcel of the lives of most tech users. But it was not always thus. In the nineties, updating software used to be a tedious process which more often than not involved swapping multiple disks. More often than not, you had to download software to a computer and then transfer it to a device and then pray that it worked (it often did not – too often!)
Guess who changed that?
Yes, that Cupertino company. When Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997, he brought in a slew of changes. The company discontinued products and side projects right and left and fired nearly 2000 employees to realign its core. To simplify Apple’s ambitions and turn it into a profitable enterprise, Jobs repositioned all the resources towards four essential products, one of which was the iconic iMac.
Apple also began work on a new kind of OS. One that could often be fixed without visiting the customer care. And most interestingly, one that could be updated from anywhere through the Internet using – yes – over the air updates.
This was OS X. Largely based on Unix and designed by Avie Tevanian, SVP of Software Engineering at Apple, it was a departure from the industry-standard interfaces, in best Apple tradition. It presented a more familiar and non-technical take on the operating system, which represented the original values Apple stood for.
But where do OTAs come into this? Well, the primary reason why Apple chose to use OTAs was that OS X initially was made available as a public beta in September 2000. It had a number of bugs, many of which were reported by early adopters. To ensure OS X was completely glitch-free before the final release, the folks at Apple pushed updates throughout the test period. The idea was to develop a powerful alternative to Windows, which was the dominant OS (it still is, but that is another story).
The success of the OTA system of delivering updates was quickly noticed and the years that followed saw it becoming an industry norm, as other companies quickly jumped on board and integrated a similar system in their offerings as well. So much so that today household gadgets like air purifiers and even automobiles get OTA updates.
So the next time you hit the “check for updates” option on your device, just remember to thank those folks who made updates as simple as a direct download over an Internet connection. Oh yes, the folks at THAT company.
(Source of information: “Becoming Steve Jobs”, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli)