iCloud: iTunes Now Knows When You Buy an App Directly on Your iPhone or iPad

If you bought and downloaded an app directly on your iPhone or iPad a week ago, the app would not show up on your PC or Mac until the device was synced with iTunes. Until then losing your iPhone or iPad also meant losing your purchase or free download.

However, a week after Apple announced iCloud at its Worldwide Developer Conference, we are seeing its features even before it fully rolls out later this year when iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion are released. Last week I noted that iTunes gained the ability to re-download songs, apps and books.

iTunes/iCloud Ability to Re-download Songs, Apps & Books is Up and Running

This week I noticed a new behavior for apps downloaded directly to an iPhone or iPad. You do not need to tether your device to a PC or Mac with a USB cable for iTunes to be “aware” of the purchase. Here’s the sequence of events that I noticed.

1. I downloaded and installed a free app using the iPad’s App Store app.
2. Later that day I started iTunes 10.3.1 on my Mac.
3. I noticed that iTunes was downloading something.
4. Looking at the iTunes download queue, I saw that it was the app that I had downloaded to the iPad earlier that day.

This happened even though I had not synced the iPad to iTunes with a USB cable. This new sync process should provide a better backup situation for iOS device users and reduce sync times if you frequently purchase apps directly on the device instead of through iTunes.