With the advent of the smart-phone and other consumer technology firmware updates have become something that the common user has to know about. Android handles its firmware upgrades completely different from it iOS cousins, to the point where I don’t think you can actually classify them together.
iOS downloads a huge file, 666.2MB at last check Through iTunes the device is backed up and the OS and core apps; mail, calendar, safari, maps, etc, are updated. This method is dependant on large downloads, long tethered updates, even in the event that there is only a small change. This and the necessity to activate the device through iTunes after every update put hindrances on over-the-air (OTA) updates which iOS doesn’t support presently. The biggest issue I have with this method is that all the core apps are tied to these updates. To get an update to any core app, mail, appstore, calendar, maps, youtube, stocks, weather, itunes, it has to be through a firmware update. Its like needing to rebuild you house every time you get a new couch.
On the other hand, Android has several ways to update. The first, and worst, are the carrier OTA updates. These a plagued with carrier addons, manufacture UIs, and delays-a-plenty. These are still great for the everyday user, just not for me. Secondly some manufactures/carriers let you download the update to the phone through desktop applications and then just restart the phone with a file on the SD card. And third and best of all, you can use any ROM being maintained by developers, Cyanogen being the most prominent, and update whenever a new build is pushed through a variety of portals. These updates can be download and installed without the use of a computer.
In all these case the updates can range from 80-150MB in my experience. The best part about these updates is that they are for the most part system upgrades. They add features at a core level like, pinch to zoom, multitasking, flash support, speed/battery improvements, and the like. The average person probably wouldn’t notice any difference in these improvements, but the techno-person does.
Androids core apps, gmail, youtube, maps, navigation, Market, etc are handled like applications. They aren’t tied to the firmware and can be upgraded through the market in mere seconds when ever you want. it also allows you to have the latest version of the app without having the latest version of the firmware.
These differences on how the firmware is handled make direct comparisons of Android and iOS updates nonsensical.