Unified Software Updates

Progress is ahead, OSX is improving with each build, but in my opinion certain elements are not changed fast nor drastically enough. Let’s use the way it is supporting updating software for the operating system, the company’s official software, or third party applications.

Please note that I am taking about Apple their OSX (Version Lion) and iOS (Version 5.1) because I use it daily. I am sure it somewhat applies to Windows or Linux as well.

If you really think about it (updating the software on your systems that is) you should get a notepad and a pen, because it’s quite the list.

At the core there’s the operating system (OSX) for the ‘computers’ such as their MacBook laptops, iMac workstations or the Mac Pro servers. And the ‘gadgets’ (if you can call them that way) (iOS) such as their iPad tablets, iPhone device or the iPod media gadgets.

OSX updates are done through the menubar > apple logo > software updates. But, official applications and tools, drivers and anti virus things are handled through here as well. Great, a single place for ‘official os stuff’. However, more and more “by Apple” software is offered through the App Store (explanation: the Mac App Store). It’s already crossing streams because my upgrade to Lion and Lion Server was acquired through the App Store. So, where do I look for updates from this point on then? This could be unified.

Third party software and their updates are handled in a two-tier system, at least in Lion as Mountain Lion locks this down even further. You can find the App Store by going to the menubar > apple logo > app store.

Deciding on third party software is now requiring time. Either you go (less) risk-free through the Apple Developer Certified Mac App Store – by Apple approved – to get your software, sandboxing them and updates are available which is super handy. Or you go to a store or web site and buy directly from the developer, but it won’t be sandboxed and updates won’t show up in the App Store. Updates are pushed by the software itself in this case, or you can go to menubar > program name > preferences > updates (in most cases).

Either way, you end up with two things that you have to remember, are my third party apps up to date, and after doing the via the App Store update I also have to go through the Apps and manually update them. This whole process of official apps, certified and uncertified apps could be a bit more unified. I for example would like to see ‘popular’ or ‘well-known apps’ to be in an uncertified tab in the App Store with a clear warning. If not only for those Apps that offer two versions, one for the App Store and one with more features that they can’t include in the App Store version because of Apple’s App Store Guidelines.

So far this dynamic option that a modern operating system is offering us is creating confusion to the consumer if you ask me.

Onwards to more confusion, digital media has been introduced via iTunes, originally only for the music on the desktop systems, and later for the iPod to take your music with you. And it’s grown to television, movies, podcasts, and books. Awesome. But here’s a confusion: It now does applications as well. Sure, it’s not the App Store, because it’s the Apps for the mobile devices. So at this point we have official apps via the “Software Update..”, the “App Store”, and “iTunes Store”. And the OS update for the mobile devices isn’t done through the Software Update or the App Store, like Lion, but via iTunes, and not via the iTunes Store, but via iTunes > devices > each individual device > “Check for Updates”. Clearly this could all be unified a bit better to avoid confusion.

I do feel there’s great progress with creating a consumer friendly experience with moving the OS as ‘download’ option for an as-good-as-free price for both the desktop and the mobile solution. And moving it to the ‘App Store’. It should just be a unified location and not be done through separate programs.

Further progress is made posible through iCloud, allowing us to do Over the Air updates to the OS. And this is pushed throughout the platform to digital media (you can download purchased content at any time via the device) and applications (you can download purchased apps at any time via the device). This is a huge example of a unified solution. Apple took the tech out of the hands of the consumer – as it no longer matters to the consumer which application they’re using to update the os, media or apps. I am sure many don’t even think about this. Of course, realistically iOS over the air update happens via the system preferences app, and media is downloaded via Music app or alike, and apps via the App Store (on iOS, so the iOS application App Store). Okay, so it’s not perfect yet.

So you are done with updating your computers, laptops, devices, and gadgets, plugging them in or not, rebooting them or not, and the OS is up to date. And you’re done with going through all the App Store applications and updating the certified software and apps, via their respected App Store apps, iTunes, or via iCloud. And you’re done going through your most used uncertified apps making sure they are up to date as well.

And you think you are done? Nah. Everything’s “cloudy” these days.

You could go to iTunes and click on “complete my album” or “update to DRM high quality version”, or “upload to iCloud”, or “generate Genius lists”, and surely a few more things. Maybe there are new movies or tv episodes or seasons available. New podcasts, updates to books.

And when you’re done with iTunes, your apps might have new in-app updates, such as new friend notifications, extra themes or unlocked content. New levels to games, or rss feeds with new data. Okay, this could be considered as nitpicking, but all in all you’re still working on that long todo list on the notepad.

You haven’t even started backing things up. Syncing your pictures, documents, news feeds, etc. And backing them up.

That’s it, I had enough of all the updates, notifications and upgrades. Let’s not even mention each app might have new updates, such as friend requests, new emails, or discovery of new content. Or that you could opt-in to beta releases to apps, or find outdated apps you might want to uninstall. This is about a unified experience for software updates.

Personally I would like to see a single application by Apple that offers me official OS updates in a single spot, with the ability to push this to connected devices (over the air to iPhone, via the connected iPad, and to the networked iMac for example). With an extra tab disclosing additional downloads such as tools, drivers, security updates, and alike (as Software Update does now).

Another parent group for certified applications, with a great overview to see what I have, what needs updating, what my friends recommend, or find new apps via discovery. And this should cover both OSX and iOS, a push to devices button could help me organize which goes where, such as iTunes kinda offers now. It shouldn’t matter to me if it is wireless, connected with a usb cable, or network connected. As long as I am logged in with my iTunes ID and it’s on my LAN, I should be able to access it.

And another parent group for uncertified applications, one that is there but not so prominently in your face. Let’s call it something like ‘Apple Universe’ where we can see apps by developers recommendations, hot or popular apps, apps in the news, or a list of well known apps that are for whatever reason not offered through the app store. Clicking on it could simply load the browser and the devs official web site.

The point is that in a single App I have access to my operating systems, (un)certified software, and optional management features to help me push to devices, uninstall apps, etc.

Digital media such as tv, movies, books, etc are very iTunes and could simply stay there, in a less confusing overview.

This single app for software could have an iTunes tab that when clicked simply loads iTunes.

Anyway, what I am offering is not a solution, or the ideal approach. What I am talking about is my frustration with updating my own systems, or those of my family. It takes too long and you end up with four applications opened, all for basically the same thing. The idea about how to unify software updates needs a rethink. And I like to compare it against using Pages under Lion. Where you don’t really Save your document. The document is automatically saved, re-opened, and synced over devices. Why can’t software do the same for example (technical limitations aside)? The idea of simplifying technology for the consumer and taking it out of their hands is what Apple is very good at. Let’s do it for their and our software as well.