The iOS Report: The Refinements Keep on Coming

March 10th, 2011

Two days before the promised release date, Apple on Wednesday released the iOS 4.3 update for the iPad, and recent models of the iPhone and iPod touch. Missing in action is the Verizon Wireless version, which already has the included Personal Hotspot feature, which lets your iPhone serve as a Wi-Fi hub for cellular data. Supposedly the Verizon update will arrive later.

This early OS update gift was no doubt pushed to existing Apple customers now to lessen the load on their iTunes servers when the iPad 2 goes on sale Friday. In the past, Apple has attempted to do too much too soon, thus resulting in severely overloaded servers. I recall the year when Apple introduced a major MobileMe update, a new iOS revision, and an upgraded iPhone — all on the same day. Phones couldn’t be activated, software downloads were dreadfully slow, and the MobileMe rollout was one big mess. In fact, an Apple executive involved with Apple’s online service left the company shortly thereafter, and there were apologies all around.

Insofar as iOS 4.3 is concerned, the most important, or at least the most promoted feature, is the expansion of AirPlay to allow you to stream videos and other content via some third-party apps, to your Apple TV. There is, of course, a corresponding update for the second-generation Apple TV that’s required to support this feature.

The iTunes Home Sharing feature lets you play content to your iOS 4.3 device from either a Mac or PC with iTunes 10.2 or later installed.

If these two features don’t light your fire, you’ll still probably want to play with them a while to see how well they do and if they really enhance your digital lifestyle. I suppose AirPlay appears to make a new Apple TV more indispensable, since that gadget’s corresponding update brings you support for 5:1 Dolby sound from Netflix, plus the ability to access a number of online sporting events. These improvements make it quite clear that Apple is planning on adding more services over time, as licenses with content providers are signed.

With reports that the Chrome browser on Android OS devices — which uses the same Apple WebKit rendering core as Safari — is faster, Apple embedded their new Nitro JavaScript engine. It holds out the promise of twice the performance as the previous version. Yes, it does seem somewhat snappier on casual testing, but I gather it’ll require some deep benchmarking with different sites and test scripts to see whether Apple’s claims are true. Of course, if the reviewers don’t use the same testing scheme as Apple, results are apt to vary considerably. Macworld, however, is reporting “dramatic” improvements when using the Sunspider JavaScript test. So far as I’m concerned, Safari was pretty good as it was for a mobile browser.

One improvement that caught my eye was the addition of support for 720p output for HD movies and other content, although you’ll need one of the new $39 Apple connectors (or a third-party equivalent) to make the HDMI hookup to your flat panel TV. Now this is one of the most interesting developments of all, because it basically means that iPhones, iPod touches and iPads can now perform many of the functions of an Apple TV, which basically means you may not need to buy one. Indeed, if you get an iPad 2, the output resolution increases to 1080p, which is better than the present Apple TV offers, although Apple still doesn’t offer content at that resolution. But give it time.

The lesser features include support for Ping, plus a setting that allows an SMS alert prompt to be repeated for a given number of times. Too bad Apple’s left the mediocre Push Notification feature untouched. You’re still stuck with a single modal prompt, which, when replaced by a second prompt, can’t be recalled. This is something the Android OS does better, but I suppose there’s always hope for improvements in iOS 5. In passing, there’s a rumor that there will be an iOS 5 preview some time in April, along with the launch of a new version of MobileMe. Of course, Apple doesn’t comment on rumors.

As far as the Personal Hotspot feature is concerned, it naturally requires an extra data plan with your wireless carrier. If you’re already getting soaked on data plans, though, maybe you’ll decide that using a standard Wi-Fi router, or seeking a free hotspot at a local store, would be a more cost-effective solution. Even McDonalds has them in many cities.

There are a handful of other features, including the usual undefined “bug fixes” that are part and parcel of this release. The baseband firmware, which impacts the hardware that communicates with the cellular network, was also updated. Time will tell whether that means improved connection quality.

I did install the 4.3 update as shortly after I learned that it was available, along with the corresponding update for the Apple TV. As usual, the installation process for both was seamless and without incident. Compare that to the situation that users of Android OS devices continue to confront, which is to hope and pray that the carrier or manufacturer with deign to offer them the latest and greatest software revision. That, alas, is never guaranteed.

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3 Responses to “The iOS Report: The Refinements Keep on Coming”

  1. SonOfA says:

    Hmmm, I didn’t get the 4.3 update.. maybe because I have the Verizon iPhone?

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