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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: iOS 4.3 for iPhone/ iPad/ iPod arrives

This week, Apple has released iOS 4.3, the updated software for their portable devices.
This latest update to the operating system will affect iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

Here is the short list of major features:
  • Personal Hotspot for iPhones
  • Nitro Javascript upgrade for Safari
  • iTunes Home sharing
  • Video streaming for Airplay

The quantity of udpates might be few, but they have the potential to be "essential" upgrades to many users, or simply a "Meh" upgrade to others, depending on their needs of course.

For me the biggest update is the Personal Hotspot on the iPhone. With this feature, your Apple phone can now broadcast its data signal to several WiFi devices. Meaning you can now browse the web using an iPad/Laptop/Netbook while mobile, just connected to your phone's 3G as the "WiFi" signal. Previously, we had to use WiFi dongles or MyFi devices to do this. Ironically, I was using the Google Nexus (Apple's competitor) to generate this signal for my iPad, since the iPhone was not capable of it. 
This short video clip shows how it works:

This is an essential iOS upgrade, at least for me personally, because I do not believe in paying for an additional data line just for another mobile device (iPad, Netbook, etc.) especially when I was already paying for a 3G line (unlimited data plan!) on my phone. Probably many people would feel this way, since they already DO have existing postpaid lines with their telecom provider. I don't know if this was intended or not, but now with the iPhones Personal Hotspot WiFi broadcasting, it is almost unecessary to buy the 3G version of the iPad as long as you have an iPhone. The cheaper WiFi iPad will already suffice as long as you bring your phone with you. Less incentive to buy a 3G model iPad but more incentive to get an iPhone, so I guess it evens out

According to Apple, the Personal Hotspot can support up to 5 devices with WiFi. This is more than enough for most people, because from experience even just 2 simultaneously connected devices will be enough to clog up your 3G data connection. A limitation restricted by your carriers network rather than Apple's iOS.
The feature is not without its little quirks, however. Apple put an automatic disconnect feature on the Personal Hotspot, which will cut the tethering to your device (eg. iPad) if you do not use it for more than a few minutes, then you will have to repeat the connection process. Although it is easy to reconnect, it can become frustrating if you have to do it over and over again because you are doing other stuff aside from just browsing the web exclusively. As of now I can't seem to find any toggle to extend the "disconnect" timer on the iPhone.

The next big deal in iOS 4.3 is the Home Sharing feature. You can now browse and play any media content on iTunes (on your Mac/PC) from your portable. I tested it using the iPhone, and once again it is fairly easy to set-up. On the iPhone, just go to settings>iPod and input your Apple account in to the "Home sharing" fields. Open iTunes on your Mac/PC and do the same under "Advanced settings". Then back on your iPhone, open the iPod application and under "More" you will see your iTunes folder listed in the "Home Sharing" option. Selecting that will give you access to ALL the media on your iTunes. I was able to browse through Disney's Wall-E ( a relatively large sized video) with no problems, even when I was scrolling through towards the end of the movie, the streaming was able to catch up easily on the iPhone. 

The rest of the features are welcome additions, though not as major as the above 2 in my opinion. First off, the upgraded nitro Javascript in Safari web browser does give a noticeable improvement in web browsing performance, but not great enough to shout praises.
I suppose the video streaming for Airplay is a good addition for those who have Apple TV, but I don't have one so not much comment here. I do see that it further pushes the attractiveness of centralizing all your media into iTunes.
Last but not least is the ability to set the function of the physical toggle switch on the iPad to lock screen orientation (as it was originally). It may seem like a very minor change, but it is very convenient for lazy people like me who often use their iPad reading while in bed.

Overall, iOS 4.3 is a highly recommended upgrade for iPhone and/ iPad users. Not so much if you have an iPod only.
The feature set seems geared to enrich the Media sharing experience of the user, and further cement the iPhone and iTunes into consumer's lives. Best of all, especially for me, this update strengthens the iPhone + iPad combo.

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