If you are looking to upgrade iOS and the device is on iOS5 or higher, it can be updated directly on the device.
If you are wanting to upgrade iOS on a device running iOS4 or lower, it requires a physical connection to a computer running iTunes to update.
Only the connection to iTunes on a computer provides a backup prior to the upgrade as a part of the process.
A normal sync and backup can be done directly to iCloud of via Wi-Fi to a computer running iTunes if the device is running iOS 5 or higher. Otherwise, syncing and backing up requires a physical connection to a computer running iTunes.
Thanks Diesel. I think you have accurately described how I am doing updates on my iOS devices currently.
Just in case someone from apple is reading this here are some more details on what I was thinking:
The devices on my network are all iOS5 or higher. The updating directly from the device (over wifi) works correctly.
My real issues are saving bandwidth and updating devices on a consistent and coordinated manner.
For my Mac OSX updates, the central Mac OSX server downloads all of the updates once and then the Mac OSX clients are configured to use the internal central server to complete the updates. Doing it this way saves me bandwidth and makes the client updates very fast.
I have followed these instructions below and it worked flawlessly (assuming all of the Mac OSX clients are at the correct OS version number to work with Mountain Lion server):
I'm looking to do the same thing with our iOS devices. I can see that there is additional complexity because of the requirement to sync the Mac OSX Server iTunes with the AppStore prior to updating the devices but I thought that there might be a way. I'm really only looking to update the core apple apps on the devices and the core of iOS. I really don't care about centrally updating the latest version of Angry Birds but that would be nice (lol).
You can use apple Configurator to update iOS only
You can use it on any machine I does not have to be on the server
It will download the latest version of iOS for your device and install it over USB
Saving you having to download each update indervidually on each device
It does not interfere with users iTunes accounts or users iTunes syncing unless you choose to supervise the devices with it
Unfortunatlely profile manager and apple server do not support iOS updates so far
You can push app updates out via profile manager
But with ios6 change to unauthenticated App Store updates, users can update apps without needing login and password
So you 'll have no control over app updates or bandwidth being used by users downloading updates for the same apps