Happy Apple rumor weekend! The week before WWDC is usually rife with speculation for the details behind the colorful logos and product teases that Apple's slapped on its huge print displays in San Francisco's Moscone Center. But that's not the only place where you can find sneak peeks for Apple's to-be-announced features: How about iTunes itself?
Just last night, Apple let a little detail slip within iTunes that suggests automatic application updates are going to be unveiled for iOS users come Monday's iOS 5 announcement at WWDC.
The source of the information comes from the little description found within iTunes' app update page. Typically, the text indicates (and has indicated for years) the process by which one can update one's apps: Click "Get Update" on an app to just download the new version of one particular program, or use the "Download All Free Updates" button to do just that. Once you connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer and sync the device, the app updates you downloaded to your system transfer over to your smartphone or tablet.
A new line appended to the bottom of this app update description–text which has since been removed from iTunes by Apple–said the following: "Or if your device has Automatic Download enabled for apps, your updates will download to your device without having to sync."
Automatic Download, eh? If released, the feature would be a significant upgrade for iPad and iPhone users that would finally put these devices on par with Google's Android OS in the "keeping your apps updated" category.
Right now, the over-the-air process for updating one's apps on an iPad or iPhone is entirely manual: You have to remember that you haven't checked the status of your apps in a while, you have to pull up the App Store, you have either select the updates you want to download or download all available updates at once, and you have to wait while your app downloads chug to your device over your 3G connection (or Wi-Fi , if an update is larger than 20 megabytes).
It's unclear whether Apple would allow its users to take a piecemeal approach to automatic app updates a la Android, where one selects exactly which app updates should download and install as soon as they're released. That's in contrast to a blanket automatic update service that could apply to all apps, which could be frustrating prospect for users who want to control over how and when their devices use a ton of 3G or Wi-Fi (due to concerns over data caps or battery life, to name a few).
There's also no indication from Apple as to whether automatic downloading would apply to app updates only, or whether updates to iOS itself could automatically push to users once released.