Amidst the excitement this week surrounding the release of iOS 5, Apple also quietly pushed out iTunes 10.5 on Tuesday, a relatively minor update that nonetheless adds some important features associated with the new iOS 5 release.
Specifically, iTunes 10.5 is required to sync devices running iOS 5 as well as introducing support for the new iTunes Wi-Fi Sync feature and iCloud backups. Although the release notes also mention iTunes in the Cloud, this service was actually introduced as a public beta with iTunes 10.3 shortly after the feature was announced at WWDC. The release of iTunes 10.5 presumably ends this public beta period.
The major new feature in iTunes 10.5 and iOS 5 is support for synchronizing content between an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch using a Wi-Fi connection. Wi-FI syncing is disabled by default and must be specifically enabled by connecting your device to iTunes and “Sync with this (device) over Wi-Fi” option
Once enabled, Wi-Fi synchronization effectively works in the same manner as USB synchronization, except that you don’t have to connect your device to your computer. With Wi-Fi sync enabled, your device will continue to appear in the Devices list in iTunes even after disconnecting it, with the only obvious indication that it is not physically connected being the absence of the battery icon, which is still only tracked over a physical USB connection.
You can interact with your device settings from here in much the same way as you would if it were connected via USB, including changing sync settings to add or remove content or even dragging and dropping content in to add it manually. Clicking “Apply” after changing your sync settings or adding content manually will immediately go out and look for your device on the local Wi-Fi network and initiate a sync.
Automatic synchronization begins whenever your device is connected to a power source and on the same Wi-Fi network as your iTunes library. Note that once a sync has begun, it will continue even if you disconnect your device from the power source, as long as the Wi-Fi connection and the iTunes library remains available.
You can also initiate a wireless sync manually by going into the General section within the Settings app on your device, choosing the “iTunes Wi-Fi Sync” option and tapping the “Sync Now” button; When a sync is in progress, this button changes to “Cancel Sync” and can be used to cancel the current sync operation.
This screen also displays what content is currently configured for synchronization to your device and the date and time of the last sync.
Syncing with Multiple iTunes Libraries
As with USB synchronization, Wi-Fi Sync can also be used to synchronize content with more than one iTunes library. While you still can’t automatically sync the same type of media content (e.g.
music) from more than one library, Wi-Fi sync can be used with more than one library to sync different content types—so for example you could sync music with your home computer and podcasts from a work computer.
Setting this up in iTunes 10.5 works much the same way as it would over USB: Simply configure the sync settings on the second computer as you would otherwise, being careful to not enable anything you don’t want replaced from the first computer, and then enable Wi-Fi sync on the Summary page.
When an iOS 5 device is configured to sync with more than one computer, the iTunes Wi-Fi Sync settings will display an extra menu layer displaying both computers, the types of content being synced and the last time the device was synced with each one. You can sync with all available computers by tapping the “Sync Now” button at the bottom of the list or tap on an individual computer to view more details and a “Sync Now” button to initiate a sync with that specific iTunes library.
Note that configuring iTunes Wi-Fi Sync with more than one computer on the same network can be a bit tricky. Connecting your iOS device to a second iTunes library via USB causes it to initiate a Wi-Fi sync with the original computer, since you’re connecting it to a power source. The “Apply” button will be greyed out until your device finished syncing with the other computer and you will need to wait for this sync to finish before you can apply your settings on the additional computer.
With multiple libraries configured, when you connect your iOS device to a power source it will automatically attempt to sync in sequence with each iTunes library that it can find on the local network. Note that there is no way to configure the order in which it syncs.
Limitations of Wi-Fi Sync
It’s important to keep in mind that Wi-Fi syncing in iTunes conceptually works in the same manner as a USB sync. Specifically, you must connect your iOS device for something to initiate a sync, after which a single sync operation will occur and your device will then simply sit there and charge in the same manner as it would if it were connected directly to your computer.
In other words, Wi-Fi Sync is not quite as “magical” as some users may expect. The requirement that your device be plugged in to sync is already going to reduce its usefulness for many users—if you have to plug your device in anyway, why not just connect it to your computer. On the other hand, those with charging docks and speaker docks in other locations in their homes will find this to be of greater benefit. It’s also worth mentioning that many third-party accessories will charge an iPhone more quickly than a computer’s USB port.
Wi-Fi sync also does not add any repeating or scheduled sync capabilities—you plug your device in, it syncs, and then it sits there until you either plug it in again or manually initiate a sync from iOS or iTunes. Users hoping to have their morning podcasts loaded up on their device before running out the door in the morning will find that Wi-Fi sync doesn’t change much of anything as compared to syncing via USB—you’ll still have to either plug your device back in when you get up in the morning or manually initiate a sync. As with USB syncing it is possible to hack together your own solutions with scripts and third-party scheduling tools to trigger iTunes to initiate syncs on a regular basis, but the point is that iTunes Wi-FI Sync does not inherently change this behaviour in any useful way.
That said, it is very useful to be able to configure and manage the content on your iOS device regardless of whether it’s in your pocket, lying on your desk, or sitting in another room of the house. Since the device remains available in the iTunes Devices listing, you can reconfigure your sync settings and even load content on your device manually as long as it’s somewhere on your Wi-Fi network.
iTunes and iCloud Backups
As outlined in our earlier article, Secrets & Features of iOS 5.0, the new version of iOS now supports wireless backups to iCloud as an alternative to backing up to iTunes. Once iCloud Backups have been configured on your device, it will no longer be backed up automatically by iTunes when connecting to sync over either USB or Wi-Fi.
However, even with iCloud backup enabled you can still choose to backup your device manually at any time by right-clicking on your device in iTunes and choosing “Back Up” from the context menu. Both automatic and manual iTunes Backups can be performed over Wi-FI or USB.
iTunes 10.5 also adds a new configuration option on the Summary page for iOS 5 devices allowing you to choose to between backing up automatically to iTunes or iCloud. Selecting an option will display a note indicating the last time a backup was made to that particular destination.
Clicking “Apply” will change the default destination for future backups. This is equivalent to toggling the “iCloud Backup” option in the iCloud Storage & Backup settings on your device.
While this version of iTunes is primarily aimed at adding iOS 5 and iCloud support, there are a few other minor changes worth mentioning.
References to MobileMe in the various sync settings for iOS devices have been replaced with “iCloud.” The features themselves continue to work exactly as they did before, allowing you to configure iTunes-based synchronization for Contacts, Calendars, Mail Accounts, Bookmarks and Notes.