If they put in wifi, there's no reason not to use the same radio as an RF Speedlite controller. (Both use the 2.4 GHz band.) Might require either a custom IC or an unusually flexible wifi chipset, but should be doable at reasonably low cost.
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I have to believe they already use Circular Buffers, but they may not have been very good at it. This brings the other elements into play. At the time they may have prioritized other tasks thinking they had the time; or yes, it could have been crappy programming. The hack guys may have a better opinion of the quality of Canon's embedded programming. It could also be an improvement in their proprietary OS that gave them more time/space headroom.
I don't understand how a jump from 15 to 26 can be done with a firmware update either. Good question.