Bandwidth required to upgrade to OS X Lion

A couple of weeks ago I took the plunge and upgraded my Mac to OS X Lion. I had been putting it off for a three reasons - I didn't want to impact my work on the Grimes App (with Apple for review as I write this), a lot of user feedback on Lion is not positive, and upgrading over 3G wireless broadband was going to be a challenge.

This post focuses on this last issue. Apple's preferred way of delivering Lion is online via the Mac App Store. If I were on any halfway decent wired broadband connection that would be great. Unfortunately I rely on an expensive, pretty unreliable, sometimes slow 3G connection for all of my Internet access from the Mac. This is not through choice, connectivity options are pretty limited in semi-rural areas, and I should probably count myself lucky having 3G coverage at all.

To help poor sods like me, Apple sells Lion on a thumb drive. I ordered one, and when it arrived I did a couple of backups of my system and took the plunge.

Time for a quick digression. The only reason I wanted to upgrade was to be able to develop software tailored for the new iPad. This requires the iOS 5.1 SDK, which requires the latest Xcode, which only runs under Lion. So my definition of ”upgrade” was to get to the point where I could run Xcode with the iOS 5.1 SDK.

So back to the story. The actual upgrade was painless and pretty quick. After about 35 minutes I had a running Lion system. So far so good, but we were not finished.

I tried to install Xcode from the Mac App Store, but couldn't because it needed a higher revision number of Lion. A run of Software Update downloaded a 500Mb Lion Recovery update. This was adding insult to injury as Lion Recovery can not be used if you installed Lion from the thumb drive.

Still not there. Another run of Software Update and another ~1.5Gb of updates downloaded. Finally I was ready to download Xcode, and burn another ~1.2Gb of download quota.

Great, I was in Xcode and could compile under the iOs 5.1 SDK. But not so fast, Xcode still needed to download something like another 1Gb of documentation.

So even using the Lion thumb drive I had to download over 4Gb of data. For a 3G user this is a significant amount of data. For example, 6Gb per month is a fairly usual 3G plan and would cost about A$75 per month.

The moral of this story is that we are fast getting to the point where you cannot keep a Mac system up to date without a reasonable broadband connection. We are probably at that point already if you are a developer.