Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 4.3
Today Apple released iOS 4.3 for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Originally announced for release later this week, iOS 4.3 introduces a major enhancement to AirPlay capability, support for the new Personal Hotspot feature on the iPhone, a new Home Sharing feature for streaming iTunes content wirelessly and several other smaller new features and enhancements for the aforementioned devices. It’s also the shipping version of iOS on initial production iPad 2 units, and has support for their new hardware features.
Downloading and Installing
As with all previous iOS updates, an entirely new firmware package is downloaded and applied to your device. Users can expect the update to come in between 300 and 750 MB depending upon your specific device model. iOS 4.3 should install on all current iOS 4.x devices and the iPad as an in-place update without erasing any existing data or settings, but as always it’s best to ensure that you have a current backup of your device before starting. iTunes normally handles this for you automatically—you can check the status of your iOS device backups by visiting the Devices page in your iTunes preferences.
Note that if you’re upgrading an iPhone or iPod touch that isn’t already running some version of iOS 4 then the same update process applies as it did with the original iOS 4.0 release—second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G devices will be erased and restored as part of the process with an additional FULL backup of the device being made before the restore begins, including all media content. This backup may be time-consuming, so you should allow for a couple of hours for it to complete. Alternatively, if you’re using automatic synchronization and have all of your content already in your iTunes library, you can save quite a bit of time by disabling automatic synchronization and removing all of the content from your device by deselecting it before performing the update. Once the update has completed, you can re-enable automatic synchronization and add your content back from iTunes at your leisure.
Apple continues its recent trend of leaving older iOS devices behind with this update. iOS 4.3 is only available for the iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and third- and fourth-generation iPod touch. As previously noted, the iPad 2 will ship with iOS 4.3, but second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G users appear to now be at the end of the road with last fall’s release of iOS 4.2.
Also notable is that the Verizon iPhone 4 is not supported by this update. The Verizon iPhone is already running an “in-between” version at 4.2.6 and includes some features of iOS 4.3 such as the new Personal Hotspot. It is not known at this time whether a separate iOS 4.3 update for the Verizon iPhone is in the works.
The good news is that by eliminating support for the older devices entirely, iOS 4.3 can now provide a consistent experience across all supported devices, subject only to obvious hardware differences such as camera and GPS support.
When AirPlay was first introduced in iOS 4.2, many users were enthusiastic about its potential for streaming not only audio from an iPhone or iPad, but also streaming video content to the Apple TV. Sadly, the feature as originally implemented was somewhat below many people’s expectations—video streaming was limited to Apple’s own iPod, Video and YouTube applications, leaving third-party apps and even videos in Safari out in the cold with only audio streaming available. Even Apple’s own Photos app could only stream static pictures to an Apple TV, precluding users from easily sharing recorded videos from an iPhone 4.
iOS 4.3 attempts to address much of this by giving third-party applications and web sites access to AirPlay video streaming capabilities, subject to certain limitations:
Opt-in: It’s important to note that the new AirPlay video features are entirely opt-in for both iOS developers and web sites. iOS 4.3 is not a magic update that will cause video playback to suddenly become available via AirPlay—developers will need to update their apps to specifically add this capability. Further, web sites will need to add tags to specifically allow AirPlay to be used; in the absence of these tags, AirPlay is disabled by default. While it is reasonable to assume that most app developers will be relatively quick to add this support, the opt-in requirement for web sites is such that only the most iOS-friendly sites are likely to implement the necessary changes. AirPlay will continue to work as it did in iOS 4.2 for those apps and sites that have not specifically enabled it.
Supported video formats: The other big caveat with AirPlay is that it continues to only support video formats that can be played natively on the Apple TV. This basically includes H.264 and MPEG-4 formats, so don’t expect AirPlay support to appear in third-party apps that use other codecs such as DivX or WMV.
Third-party apps don’t get photo support: AirPlay in iOS 4.3 only provides support for video and audio streaming. While photos can be played via the built-in Photos app, Apple does not presently provide any means for third-party developers to access this capability, so you can forget about using AirPlay and an Apple TV for Powerpoint or Keynote presentations. For now.
Video playback from Photos app
With iOS 4.3, iPhone users can now play videos from the Photos app via AirPlay. This includes videos recorded on the device as well as any videos synced back into a photo album from iTunes.
iOS 4.3 adds support for Apple TV transitions when playing a slideshow via AirPlay. Previously, slideshows sent to an Apple TV simply used the “dissolve” option regardless of the transition chosen on the device.
With iOS 4.3 users can now choose one of the Apple TV’s built-in transitions to use for AirPlay slideshows. When an Apple TV is selected as the output device, the list of transitions will automatically change from the device’s built-in transitions: “Cube, Dissolve, Ripple, Wipe Across and Wipe Down” to the built-in Apple TV transitions: “Ken Burns, Origami, Reflections, Snapshots and Classic” plus three new transitions in Apple TV 4.2: “Holiday Mobile, Photo Mobile and Scrapbook.” Note that this feature is only supported on an Apple TV running Apple TV software 4.2/iOS 4.3 or later—AirPlay slideshows sent to prior Apple TV OS versions will simply play with a dissolve transition, with no additional prompt for settings.
iOS 4.3 also unifies the slideshow settings selection between devices. As on the iPad, users on an iPhone or iPod touch can now adjust slideshow transitions, settings and select music directly from the slideshow button in the Photos app instead of requiring a trip to the device’s universal Settings app.
First debuted on the Verizon iPhone released in early February, iOS 4.3 brings the Personal Hotspot feature to the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS on all other carriers, subject of course to the usual carrier restrictions on tethering.
Personal Hotspot is an evolution of the “Internet Tethering” feature first introduced in iOS 3.0, effectively adding Wi-Fi hotspot support to the prior Bluetooth and USB options. Personal Hotspot can be found in the same place that Internet Tethering was previously located, under General, Network in the iPhone Settings app, and is configured in much the same way, with a single on/off toggle and the addition of a Wi-Fi password option.
The iPhone will automatically generate a human-readable password for your device which you can change yourself if desired. The Personal Hotspot feature uses WPA2 Personal encryption and users are required to use a password of at least eight characters. The iPhone uses your configured device name from iTunes as its SSID and will broadcast this whenever the Personal Hotspot feature is enabled—there is no option to create a hidden or closed Wi-Fi network from the iPhone.
Bluetooth and USB tethering continue to be supported as they were in prior versions, and the iPhone 4 supports the tethering of multiple Bluetooth devices as well. The Personal Hotspot feature supports a maximum of five connections in total, which can be any combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB connections, although users appear to be limited to no more than three simultaneous connections of any one type (ie, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth).
As with the prior Internet Tethering option, a blue bar appears at the top of the screen when a Personal Hotspot connection is active from another device. The number of devices connected will be shown in this summary bar, and tapping on it will take you directly to the Personal Hotspot settings screen.
Note that when Personal Hotspot is enabled, the iPhone creates its own Wi-Fi network, preventing you from connecting to any other Wi-Fi networks. As a result, unlike the previous Internet Tethering feature, you’ll likely want to turn this option off when you’re not using it. To make this a bit easier, Personal Hotspot now appears at the top level of the iPhone Settings application.
As with the prior Internet Tethering feature, it will be up to individual carriers to support iPhone tethering. However, it appears that individual carriers will only be able to decide whether to allow tethering or not, rather than disabling specific methods of tethering.
Notably, however, carriers will have the ability to decrease the five-device limit if desired, although we’ve been informed that only three carriers worldwide have specified a lower limit as of the iOS 4.3 release. Future carrier updates delivered separately could change this, however.
Using Personal Hotspot from an iPad or iPod touch
Any Wi-Fi capable device that supports WPA2 Personal security should be able to use the Personal Hotspot via Wi-Fi, including all iPod touch and iPad models regardless of iOS version. However, when using an iOS 4.3 device, Personal Hotspot networks will be indicated with a chain link icon instead of the standard Wi-Fi icon used for other W-Fi networks.
Further, an iPad or fourth-generation iPod touch running iOS 4.3 can also tether through an iPhone via Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi, allowing users to take advantage of additional Personal Hotspot connections, or use Bluetooth in situations where Wi-Fi may not be desirable for security or performance reasons.
Home Sharing from iTunes to an iOS 4.3 device is also now supported. To use this feature, users must be running iTunes 10.2 or later and have enabled Home Sharing in their iTunes library—the legacy iTunes Sharing feature is not supported.
To enable Home Sharing on an iOS 4.3 device, users simply need to visit the appropriate Settings app—“iPod” on an iPhone or iPad, “Music” on an iPod touch—and enter the same Apple ID and password used to enable Home Sharing in iTunes. Note that for iPod touch users the Home Sharing settings will only appear if Wi-Fi is enabled.
Once your Apple ID and password have been entered, a new “Shared” option should appear within the various integrated media applications (ie, iPod, Music, Videos) whenever you are on the same Wi-Fi network as one of your shared iTunes libraries, allowing you to choose a library to stream media content from. Once you’ve switched to a shared library, media content is accessed in the same manner as you would play locally stored content.
There are almost no additional configuration options for Home Sharing in either iTunes 10.2 or iOS 4.3. Only a single new option in iTunes 10.2 exists to control whether play counts are updated when using Home Sharing. Although this setting works as expected with another iTunes 10.2 library, this information is not currently updated when using Home Sharing from an iOS 4.3 device.
It’s also worth noting that the Sharing option in the iPod/Music apps must always be accessed from the “More” menu—it cannot be added as a button at the bottom, likely because the option disappears when no shared libraries are available.
Home Sharing Limitations
For casual listening to audio content from your iTunes library, Home Sharing works very well and provides the same user interface as for locally-stored media, accessing content through the normal applications and using the standard controls that users are already familiar with. However, as it has currently been implemented, the new Home Sharing feature has a few limitations worth mentioning.
Local Wi-Fi Support Only: Home Sharing currently works only when both your device and your iTunes library are on the same Wi-Fi network. This is not the iTunes “Cloud” feature that many have been expecting, although the current Home Sharing technology may very well be the precursor to a more sophisticated cloud sharing service in the future.
No Photos: Apple TV users might expect that Home Sharing would provide access to shared photos as it does on the Apple TV. This is not the case when using Home Sharing with an iOS 4.3 device—only audio and video are supported.
AirPlay Support: You can send out your audio via Home Sharing to any supported AirPlay device, however streaming video using Home Sharing to an Apple TV is not supported—only the audio options will be available. This should not be a practical limitation for most users, as one could just as easily stream that content from iTunes directly to the Apple TV with either the iOS Remote app or straight from the Apple TV menus; same with iOS devices.
Played Status: Content accessed via Home Sharing does not presently update or reflect any played status. This includes metadata such as played, skipped, last played, last skipped and new item indicators for movies, TV shows and podcasts. All items will appear as new on the iOS device regardless of whether they have been played in iTunes or not, and status is not updated when an item is played on the Home Sharing device. This problem exists regardless of the Home Sharing computers and devices update play counts setting in iTunes 10.2; an option which works as expected when playing content from other iTunes 10.2 libraries. Note that the recently released iTunes 10.2.1 does not fix this issue.
Playback Positions: Home Sharing does not presently respect playback positions for content watched on another device. Movies, TV shows, podcasts and audiobooks always start at the beginning of the item.
Ratings: Ratings from the iTunes library are not displayed within the iOS applications. Further, you can oddly set a rating yourself from your device, which seems to save on the local device but is not transferred back to the iTunes library. It is unclear whether Apple intends to allow ratings to be set from the device—Home Sharing from another iTunes library does not allow this—but the feature clearly does not work as expected either way at this point.
Performance: Connecting to a Home Shared library from an iOS 4.3 device can presently take a couple of minutes depending on the size of the library and speed of the local Wi-Fi network. Once connected, browsing the library is relatively fast in text-only lists, as is starting and controlling audio playback. Viewing lists that include thumbnails, such as Albums and Videos is more sluggish as the iOS device works to update the graphics across the network. Further, no caching of images appears to occur on the iOS device, requiring images to be reloaded each time the user scrolls through the listing.
Video Organization: The Videos app on the iPad was clearly designed to only support a relatively small number of items, and does not provide a user interface that is conducive to browsing a larger library, lacking search functions and text-labelling of Movies and TV Shows. As with synced content, users must rely on the cover artwork, if available, to identify items from a thumbnail view. This can become frustrating when dealing with larger libraries due to the time required to refresh the graphics when scrolling. Further, the iPad Videos app does not provide a Search option to quickly locate content. The Videos app on the iPod touch and Videos section of the iPod app on the iPhone suffer a similar limitation in not being designed for extremely long lists of content—expect extreme scrolling or use the search option if you have a large library of movies, TV shows or music videos.
Audible.com Content: Audiobooks purchased from Audible.com cannot be played via Home Sharing. This is likely due to the different licensing and authorization requirements for this content.
iOS 4.3 also includes a number of other small changes worth noting.
Mute / Screen Lock Switch Toggle (iPad)
When Apple first announced the iPad last year, the hardware switch at the top right was introduced as a mute switch, similar to the switch found on every iPhone since the original. A few weeks later, just before its release, Apple quietly changed this function to an orientation lock. This continued to be the only function of the switch until Apple released iOS 4.2 last November and surprised many iPad users by changing it back to its originally stated purpose as a mute switch. In doing this, Apple moved the rotation lock function to a button on the widget bar, similar to how this was done on the iPhone and iPod touch.
With iOS 4.3, Apple now provides users with the ability to choose which function they wish to assign to the hardware switch: Mute or Lock Rotation. This can be configured from the General options in the Settings app.
The button on the multitasking/widget bar will automatically be set to the other option, so if you choose to reassign the Lock Rotation function to the switch, the widget bar will contain a Mute button.
Note that the “Mute” option—regardless of whether it’s assigned to the switch or the button bar— mutes alert sounds, which are separate from other sounds such as music and video playback. Similarly, turning down the volume using the buttons on the side of the iPad will not silence alerts such as push notifications, calendar alarms and new incoming mail messages.
The FaceTime icon on the iPod touch gets a complete facelift, changing to a fancier and more metallic silver-clad version, similar to the Mac icon for FaceTime, but with an iOS-shaped rounded square background. This icon also appears on the iPad 2.
In iOS 4.3, the FaceTime application (iPod touch/iPad 2) or Phone app (iPhone) now indicate missed FaceTime calls with a small arrow inside the FaceTime icon.
FaceTime otherwise behaves exactly as it did in iOS 4.2. It’s specifically worth noting that FaceTime continues to use only your phone number on the iPhone and only an e-mail address on the iPod touch and iPad 2. There is no way to configure an iPhone with an e-mail address, and no way to assign your iPhone number to FaceTime on a non-iPhone device.
iOS 4 introduced the ability to choose a preferred font for the built-in Notes application, adding Helvetica and Chalkboard to the infamous Market Felt font that’s been around since iOS 1.0. With iOS 4.3, the Chalkboard font has been dropped in favor of Noteworthy, a new version that vaguely resembles handwriting. Chalkboard represented a second and less polarizing attempt than Marker Felt to offer a casual font for the built-in Notes app; Noteworthy sacrifices a little legibility to offer an even more relaxed and interesting-looking typeface.
Push Notifications for Ping
The built-in iTunes Store application now supports Push Notifications for Apple’s Ping service, presenting a request to allow Push Notifications when opening the Ping tab, and appearing in the list of Notifications under the Settings app simply as “Ping.”
It is unclear what form these notifications will take as Apple has not yet started sending them out, although presumably they would include things like friend requests and comments on posts.
iOS 4.3 brings a number of other changes to the Settings menu, with some layout changes and some new settings hidden within.
Personal Hotspot & Location Services
Once configured, the new Personal Hotspot feature (formerly known as Internet Tethering) now gets a prominent position near the top of the main settings menu, as does Location Services.
The Personal Hotspot setting is particularly useful as you will not be able to use a local Wi-Fi connection and have Personal Hotspot enabled at the same time, so you can’t just “set it and forget it” as you could with the prior Internet Tethering option.
Moving Location Services to the main menu is a slightly more questionable decision, although presumably some users may want to have a convenient way of disabling this option for privacy reasons.
Note that Personal Hotspot still also appears in its original location under General, Network while Location Services has been moved to the top-level menu.
Ping now gets its own, separate setting under Restrictions, allowing parents to toggle off access to the iTunes social network while still allowing access to the iTunes Store app.
The “Allow Changes” section introduced in iOS 4.2 has been modified to provide direct access to the Location Services rather than simply a toggle to lock them down. A similar menu structure has been implemented for the “Accounts” section, although no additional configuration options are available.
Message Alert Repeat (iPhone)
iOS 4.3 now allows iPhone users to set the number of times an SMS/MMS alert tone is repeated. A default repeat of two additional notifications at 5- and 15-minute intervals was first added in iOS 2.1, and iOS 3.0 introduced a toggle to turn this feature off, but no way to configure it otherwise. iOS 4.3 now allows you to choose to be notified of a pending SMS/MMS message once, twice, 3, 5 or 10 times at two-minute intervals.
The interval itself is fixed at two minutes and is not user-configurable.
Manual Pause when Dialling (iPhone)
iOS 4.3 adds a new manual pause feature in addition to the three-second time pause for dialling phone numbers. This allows a more effective way of saving a voicemail or conference bridge passcode without needing to worry about playing with multiple three-second pauses to try and get the timing right. To insert a manual pause or “wait” code, simply place a semicolon (;) within the phone number, followed by the additional digits you want to dial, such as an extension or passcode. When the phone number is dialled, an additional button will appear to the right of the “End” button allowing you to send the additional digits on-demand.
Multiple manual pauses can be entered simply by using multiple semicolons within the phone number string—the iPhone will display a button for each number sequence. Once all number sequences have been dialled, the “Dial” button disappears and the “End” button returns to its normal full width.
You can insert a semicolon in the Keypad screen by holding down the # key, in the same way that a timed three-second pause (,) is inserted with the * key. The layout of the numeric pad for phone number entry in a contact record has also been updated, placing the “Pause” option above the * key, the new “Wait” option above the # key and moving the International + prefix down to the zero position to correspond to its location in the Phone app’s Keypad screen.
Purchase More Ringtones
Ringtone lists now include a “Buy More Tones” button at the top which will take the user directly to the Ringtones section in the iTunes Store app. This button appears in all ringtones lists, including the ringtone selection in the Settings app and the alarm tone selection list in the built-in Clock app. This continues to apply only to ringtones, however—text alert tones still cannot be customized beyond the built-in list.
As noted above under the discussion of the new AirPlay features, the Transition option in the Photos settings on the iPhone and iPod touch has been removed. This option is now available when starting a slideshow on these devices.
Users can now configure a triple-click of the home button to toggle the zoom feature. Previously, only VoiceOver and White on Black were available options for this.
New regional formats have been added for American Samoa, Benin, Bukina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Comoros, Congo - Brazzaville, Congo - Kinshasa, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, Togo, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Latin America, and the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands.
Language support remains the same in iOS 4.3, although the menu has been slightly reorganized to move British English closer to the top of the list, right below (U.S.) English.
A Word On Those iPad Multitasking Gestures
During the iOS 4.3 beta cycle, Apple enabled multitasking gestures on the iPad as a developer preview, providing access to the home screen, multitasking bar and app switching through four- and five-finger gestures. Apple’s Getting Ready for iOS 4.3 page noted that this feature was enabled simply for testing purposes and not intended to be a released feature. Registered iOS Developers may still be able to take advantage of this feature by setting their devices into “Development” mode, however these gestures are not available to end users.
iOS 4.3 introduces some very useful additions with expanded AirPlay support, a very welcome Personal Hotspot feature for iPhone users and the introduction of the new Home Sharing feature. Although some of these new features are not without their limitations at this point, they each represent a good step in a positive direction. It would be nice to see AirPlay support expanded further and video support more widely available, although hopefully much of this will come with the release of updated third-party apps. The new Home Sharing feature also shows a lot of promise despite its current bugs and limitations which we sincerely hope will be be addressed in another not-too-distant iOS and/or iTunes update.
There have been some reports that iOS 4.3 may have be less efficient in terms of battery life on some devices, under some conditions. Apple has struggled with battery issues since the release of iOS 4.0—a problem exacerbated by the addition of Persistent Wi-Fi to iPod touch devices. Standby battery life appears to be particularly impacted by this, so users who do not charge their devices every night may wish to hold off on this update until there has been some time to see what the actual impact is on battery life. We’ll be taking a more detailed look at this over the next few days and will update this article with our findings once we’ve had time to test battery performance under iOS 4.3.
Update or Wait?
For the most part, iOS 4.3 seems like a relatively safe update in every regard except for the potential battery issues we’ve noted above, which may not impact all users. There is little here that would require a user to update their device to iOS 4.3 to fix any issues or provide support for any new devices, and most could safely remain on the prior iOS release. Many of the new features are compelling, but more cautious users may want to take a “wait-and-see” approach. It will take some time for features such as AirPlay video support to make it into updated third-party applications, and Home Sharing may not appeal to all users until some of the limitations we’ve noted are addressed, and Personal Hotspot is not necessarily available on all carriers and will require some users to sign up for an additional service. None of these are reasons not to update, however; only increased battery drain is currently on our radar as a possibly serious concern.
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