A Staggering Number of 1’s and 0’s

The other day, Apple published an update to iOS, the software that runs iPhones, iPads, and iWhatnot. I updated my two devices last night; the download was about 1GB for each.

Not that long ago, a gigabyte was a lot of data. Even these days, a gigabyte here, a gigabyte there, pretty soon you’re talking about a crap-ton of information.

How much? Today I spent a full ten minutes doing research for this blog episode, hoping to come up with some sort of estimate for the number of iGadgets updated over the last couple of days. I found one fairly recent article that said there were 400 million iOS devices in the wild, but that report was published before Apple sold two million iPhones in China — in a single weekend.

I’m going to throw the number 500 million out there, because it’s nice and round and makes the math easier. We have to figure in the percentage of iDevices that are sitting in drawers gathering dust; those will not likely be updated the moment a new iOS version is available. What percentage is this? It’s really hard to tell. Apple loves to point out, however, that even taking into account the huge market share they enjoy, the amount of Web traffic generated by their devices is even higher, suggesting a significantly higher usage rate than their Android cousins. I will make the logical leap that higher usage rate implies higher demand for updates to the new iOS.

So, let’s say that half of all iOS owners upgraded their gear in the last two days. Apple considers it a HUGE competitive advantage that they can provide infrastructure to update all iOS devices. Android providers simply don’t have that (Google has might, but Android updates go through the telephone companies, so the telcos can limit features and add nefarious supplements). As a result, soon 80% of all iOS users will be on the latest version. Nirvana for software developers.

But let’s think about that infrastructure. Over the last two days, by my wild-ass estimates, Apple delivered 250 million gigabytes of data to their iOS customers. 250 petabytes, on top of the regular daily traffic. I’ve been told by unreliable sources that after the Great iTunes Christmas Crush of ’09 (or was it ’10? Thanksgiving?) work was done to allow server capacity to be reallocated in anticipation of massive crunch times. If the network performance in my office is an indicator, that happened this week.

Side thought: is it possible to store more bits of data than there are particles in the universe? Not in binary, I suspect. Side side thought: I learned on a British educational TV show in roughly 1981 that the universe holds something like 1083 particles, but what with all the dark matter and so forth coming down the pike since, it wouldn’t surprise me if the estimate had moved up to 1084 particles by now. Of course, the definition of “particle” itself can be squirrelly, translated from the 1980’s, and I may just remember wrong. ANYWAY, the iOS update was only on the order of 1017 bits. Chump change when scaled against the entire universe.

But down here on planet Earth, that’s a lot of ones, and roughly the same number of zeroes, each where it belongs.

1

2 thoughts on “A Staggering Number of 1’s and 0’s

  1. Don’t forget that Akamai will be caching this to the edge (usually your ISP’s DC), so not all that data will be hitting Apple’s servers.

    They used to say that Akamai had ‘more bandwidth than God’. And it ‘they’ said it, you know it’s not hyperbole.

    • Very true. Especially the part about ‘them’. Delivering the same package to millions of people is a much different problem than delivering millions of unique payloads, and is much more optimizable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.