Apple's iOS 4.3, the firmware update due this week for the iPhone and iPad, promises a handful of valuable and interesting changes for users of the company's new and old smartphones, tablet computers and music devices.
Here's what you'll get with iOS 4.3, which Apple says is available Friday, though much speculation on the Web has said it will be available sooner:
That's been confirmed by a quick speed test by one reviewer, who later compared results for Safari on iPad 2 with the browser on the original iPad and iPhone 4 and 3GS, all updated with the beta version of the 4.3 release.
2. Personal Hotspot: This has been a long time coming. It turns the Wi-Fi radio in your iPhone 4 into an access point. Up to three other Wi-Fi clients -- a Mac, PC, iPad, or anything else with a radio -- can connect to it, and then share the phone's 3G data connection to the Internet. Using USB and Bluetooth, you can let two other devices also share a cellular link. A status bar display shows you how many devices are connected; each connection is password protected. When not in use, the hotspot shuts off.
AT&T reportedly will support this feature in its DataPro 4GB service plan: $45 a month, for 4GB of data and unlimited usage of the carrier's Wi-Fi Basic service, which consists of over 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in the U.S.
3. iTunes Home Sharing: Update your iOS devices to 4.3 and any and all of them will be able to play videos and music from the iTunes library on your Mac or PC, streaming the files over your local Wi-Fi network. If you don't have it, you'll first have to install iTunes 10.2 on your computer.
PC World's Mike Keller has a step-by-step guide for setting it up.
4. AirPlay enhancements: AirPlay is Apple's wireless media streaming technology to play on one device the music, pictures and video files that are stored on another. If you have a favorite TV episode downloaded to your iPad, you can send it via AirPlay to an AppleTV box which passes it along to your big flat-panel TV.
In iOS 4.3, Apple is supporting additional content: video from Web sites or third-party applications, video captured by the Apple Photos app, and iTunes previews. You can also shoot video on an iOS device and stream it directly from the Photos app to AppleTV.
AirPlay's value hinges in part on other hardware and software companies incorporating it in speaker docs, stereo components and other hardware, and in software, as has been done by Air Video, an iOS app that streams videos in almost any format to iOS devices, with no file copying needed.
5. Two options for the iPad's side switch: In iOS 4.2, the iPad's side switch was converted from a screen-orientation lock to a mute button. Now, you can set it to be either.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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