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iOS 4.1 tweaks bars + FaceTime, adds Game Center + settings

Apple’s limited developer release of the beta version of iOS 4.1 yesterday makes a handful of small new changes to iOS 4.0, which debuted in June 2010 for iPhone 3G, 3GS, iPod touch 2G, iPod touch 3G, and iPhone 4 devices. For readers who may be interested in what’s changed, we’ve compiled a brief list, along with several screenshots provided by a reader.

One subtle change was first spotted in iOS 4.1 but will likely appear in an iOS 4.0.1 update, as well: Apple’s signal bar strength meter has been updated to more accurately depict cellular signal strength, such that they will show fewer bars than before under some conditions, and the first three bars have been made larger.

Game Center, a matchmaking and leaderboard application for iOS 4-compatible games, has been added again to the list of icons. Apple included Game Center with developer versions of iOS 4.0 until the date of final release, but pulled the app from the publicly available iOS 4 release to give developers additional time to integrate their apps with the feature. The new version of Game Center includes an updated interface with stylized graphics.

Apple has added a new Settings > General > Restrictions option to turn off multi-player game matchmaking within Game Center, which disables the request tab and friend adding for that application. It has also added a new Settings > General > Keyboard option to disable the spell checking feature. User-created dictionary entries also appear to be in the offing for iOS 4.1, enabling the auto-correction feature to learn additional words that shouldn’t be replaced.

Additional features include support for adding iPhone 4 FaceTime contacts to your Favorites list, a tweak that moves the Flash and Camera switch buttons to different locations when the device is tilted into landscape orientation, and a change to AVRCP Bluetooth handing that allows for track skipping. A version of iOS 4.1 for iPad notably has not been released by Apple.

Apple knew of potential iPhone 4 antenna issue?

Apple knew the antenna design of the iPhone 4 could pose an issue, according to a new report. Citing a person familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that Ruben Caballero, a Senior Director of iPod/iPhone engineering described in the report as an antenna expert, warned company management about the potential perils of the design. According to the report, Caballero voiced his concerns in early planning meetings once the bezel antenna design had been chosen, saying that it might lead to dropped calls and would be an engineering challenge. Beyond Caballero, a separate Bloomberg source claimed that one of Apple’s carrier partners also expressed concern about the antenna, although the report does not specify the carrier’s name. Apple is expected to address the iPhone 4’s antenna issues in a press conference scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time tomorrow.

Apple to discuss iPhone 4 on Friday

Apple has invited a small number of journalists to a special press conference, expected to be held at its headquarters in Cupertino, CA, to discuss the iPhone 4. Apple has not indicated who will be speaking at the event, which will begin at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time on Friday, nor has it given specifics about what exactly will be discussed, beyond saying that the event will focus on the iPhone 4. Most likely, the company will address concerns over the device’s ongoing antenna issues, and possibly other, less publicized issues like malfunctioning proximity sensors.

Apple releases iOS 4.1, 4.1 SDK beta

Apple has released its first beta version of iOS 4.1, along with an accompanying software development kit (SDK), to registered iPhone developers. Notably, there is no version of the beta operating system available for the iPad, suggesting that contrary to prior reports, iOS 4.1 will not be a platform-unifying release, but will instead cater to Apple’s pocketable devices exclusively. It is currently unknown what, if any, new features or APIs may be included in the update; it is also unknown whether it is meant to help alleviate initial problems with the iPhone 4, or whether those fixes will come in an incremental 4.0.1 update. Both the new iOS 4.1 SDK and pre-release builds are available now for download by registered iPhone developers from the iPhone Dev Center.

ColorWare offers mail-in iPhone 4 custom coloring

ColorWare has started offering a send-in iPhone 4 custom coloring service. The service allows customers to choose from a variety of solid, metallic, or pearlescent colors, some of which are available with a soft touch finish, for application on the phone’s back, frame, Home button, micro SIM slot and earbuds. Each component can be painted a separate color, although each component beyond the frame costs extra. ColorWare’s custom coloring service for the iPhone 4 is available now with an estimated three week turn around time, and starts at $260.

iPhone 4 users wage proximity sensor issue campaign

The lack of response by Apple to a known iPhone 4 proximity sensor issue, in which calls can be accidentally interrupted by button presses and hang-ups, has led to a grass roots campaign to force Apple to acknowledge and resolve the problem. Reader Trent Phillips, who previously emailed with the results of controlled proximity sensor testing, has launched a letter writing campaign to both technical and mainstream media outlets covering Apple products. Phillips’ message claims that Apple “is ignoring earnest requests from customers for support and resolution of this issue,” and asks recipients to cover the proximity sensor problems with the same vigor given to the iPhone 4’s reception issues.

In addition, Phillips also pointed to an Apple discussions support thread on the subject that, at 1,689 replies, had been deemed “too long” by Apple. Apple locked that thread after 113 pages of discussion, which it said was causing browser timeouts when loading, and started a continuation thread earlier today with additional replies. Prominent in the new thread is discussion of returning the device before the 30 day limit is up, as are complaints over Apple’s silence on the issue up until this point. It is still unknown whether the issue can be fixed via a software update, or whether hardware replacements will be necessary to fix the problem for affected users.

Survey: Planned iPhone purchases up significantly

According to data from the latest ChangeWave smartphone survey, more than half of all respondents planning to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days are planning to purchase an iPhone. 52% of respondents said they planned to purchase an iPhone, a dramatic 21% increase from the March survey. Following Apple was HTC, with 19% of respondents planning to purchase one of its phones, Motorola, with 9%, and RIM with 6%. Notably, both Motorola and RIM saw significant decreases from March, with Motorola down 7% and RIM falling 8%. In addition, Apple continued to lead in cell phone customer satisfaction, with 73% of iPhone customers saying that they are “very satisfied” with their device. ChangeWave’s numbers are based on a survey of 4,028 consumers, completed June 24.

Apple removing iPhone 4 discussions mentioning Consumer Reports

Apple has been removing any threads on its support forums mentioning Consumer Reports’ post from yesterday, claiming that it couldn’t recommend the iPhone 4 due to reception concerns. TUAW reports that Apple has removed at least six such discussions, one of which is still available in cached form from Bing. As the report notes, this is hardly the first time Apple has been caught removing unfavorable threads from its support forums, but it does reflect poorly on the company as it attempts to deal with the iPhone 4 antenna debacle.

Consumer Reports ‘can’t recommend’ iPhone 4 over signal issues

After stating in an earlier post that there was “no reason, at least yet, to forgo buying an iPhone 4 over its reception concerns,” Consumer Reports has published a new blog post claiming that it “can’t recommend” the iPhone 4 due to its ongoing cellular reception issues. During testing of three separate iPhone 4 units within the publication’s radio frequency isolation chamber, Consumer Reports was able to replicate the “left hand” issue in which the device experiences significant signal degradation when skin touches the black band on the lower left hand side of the handset. The signal issue is cited as the sole reason the iPhone 4 was not considered a “recommended” model in new smartphone ratings released by the publication today, despite the fact that it “sports the sharpest display and best video camera we’ve seen on any phone, and even outshines its high-scoring predecessors with improved battery life and such new features as a front-facing camera for video chats and a built-in gyroscope that turns the phone into a super-responsive game controller.”

iPhone lawsuit goes class action nationwide

A long-standing lawsuit against Apple and AT&T over the two companies’ iPhone exclusivity agreement has been granted expanded class action status. According to the court document posted online by Wired, the suit now covers “[a]ll persons who purchased or acquired an iPhone in the United States and entered into a two-year agreement with Defendant AT&T Mobility, LLC for iPhone voice and data service any time from June 29, 2007, to the present.” In an interview with Wired, Mark Rifkin, lead counsel representing the plaintiffs of the suit, explained that AT&T’s two-year contract provides an option for customers to terminate the agreement—for a fee—and switch to another carrier. Due to the nature of the U.S. cellular industry, and because the iPhone is only offered by AT&T, customers are essentially locked into using AT&T despite having the termination option.

Apple has argued that its original five-year iPhone exclusivity agreement with AT&T was widely reported, and that even if it wasn’t disclosed, it fails to produce the kind of monopoly power claimed by the plaintiffs. Notably, the exclusivity situation described above is the same for many current smartphones from other cellular providers, such as the Evo 4G from Sprint, the Droid from Verizon, and the original model of the Nexus One from T-Mobile. In addition, it remains to be seen whether the five-year exclusivity deal between Apple and AT&T is still in place, as it has been speculated that the terms of the two companies’ iPhone deal may have been part of the negotiations over iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G data plans.

Apple posts four new iPhone 4 FaceTime ads

Apple has posted four new iPhone 4 television commercials. Similar to the company’s first iPhone 4 ad, the new 30-second spots highlight the phone’s FaceTime video chat feature. “Meet Her” shows a new grandfather meeting his granddaughter for the first time, “Haircut” revolves around a boyfriend seeing his girlfriend’s new haircut, “Smile” shows a father attempting to get his daughter to smile so he can see her new braces, and “Big News” shows a wife sharing the news with her husband that they are going to have a child. All four new TV ads are available for viewing on Apple’s website.

MobileNavigator adds Background Location and more

Navigon has updated its MobileNavigator turn-by-turn navigation applications, adding support for iOS 4 Background Location and Fast App Switching on multitasking-capable devices and several other new features. In addition to multitasking, MobileNavigator 1.6 adds live weather information, directions to parking, voice guidance for pedestrian mode and an enhanced Reality View Pro. The new Live Weather feature updates and reports current weather conditions enroute and at the destination with temperature and weather conditions shown in the route overview screen during navigation. A new Clever Parking feature enables users to display a list of available parking areas near their destination and easily plot a route to a parking spot. Support for iOS 4 Background Location allows MobileNavigator to continue running in the background and providing voice guidance on multitasking-capable devices. MobileNavigator will also automatically shut down background location mode when no route is active or once you’ve reached your destination, avoiding unnecessary power consumption from the GPS hardware. The latest update also adds enhanced graphics for the iPhone 4 Retina Display and includes the latest NAVTEQ map data, while bringing the Navigon MyRegion suite of regional apps up to the same feature level as the main MobileNavigator series; the MyRegion apps have been renamed to MobileNavigator MyRegion to reflect this. MobileNavigator North America is available from the App Store for $50 until July 22 and is a free update for current users. Versions for other countries can be found on Navigon’s App Store page.

Apple, others sued over cellphone email

Apple, along with Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, and Motorola, has been sued over technology relating to wireless email. The Wall Street Journal reports that NTP sued the companies in U.S. District Court in Virginia over eight patents covering the wireless delivery of email to cellphones. “Use of NTP’s intellectual property without a license is just plain unfair to NTP and its licensees,” company co-founder Donald E. Stout said in a statement. “We took the necessary action to protect our intellectual property.” NTP previously received a $612.5 million settlement from BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, to prevent a potential injunction, giving it some precedence heading into its proceedings with Apple.

iPhone 4 proximity sensor problems blamed on software

Noting that Apple has not responded to numerous complaints in its own support forums regarding iPhone 4 proximity sensor problems, iLounge reader Trent Phillips has conducted tests to determine differences between the sensor behaviors of multiple iPhone models, and concluded that an iOS software update is capable of resolving the problems. In an e-mail to iLounge, Phillips says that the iPhones are all capable of deactivating their screens when objects are detected at a two-inch distance from the sensor, but the iPhone 4 behaves differently from its predecessors, making decisions that lead to accidental screen reactivations under certain conditions.

Earlier iPhones, Phillips notes, switch off their screens at the two-inch distance regardless of the color and past motion of the approaching object. By comparison, the iPhone 4 appears to be less sensitive to dark objects than light ones, and also changes its deactivation distance dynamically after the initial contact. Consequently, the iPhone 4’s screen deactivates only from a shorter distance—say, one inch rather than two inches—if the object it initially reacted to was at the shorter distance. Testing with black and white pieces of paper suggested that the “black piece of paper greatly reduced the detection range of the proximity sensor,” which “could also explain why some people see different effects,” says Phillips, based on skin tone, makeup, light levels, and other factors. His belief is that the iPhone 4’s sensor retains the two-inch range of prior iPhones, but has been miscalibrated on the software side, perhaps in an effort to improve battery life. While it’s still unclear as to whether changes in the iPhone 4’s glass material and/or proximity sensor hardware could also be responsible for the issues, Phillips believes from his testing that a software update could fix the problem, and “all may be well again.”

Fring adds two-way video calling for iPhone 4

Fring has released an update to its iOS voice and video communications app adding support for two-way video calling and multitasking on capable iOS 4 devices. Although Fring added one-way video calling to its iPhone application last December, the lack of a front-facing camera on the earlier iPhone models precluded its use for two-way video conferencing. With the addition of the new front-facing camera on the iPhone 4, Fring users can now engage in bi-directional video calls over either Wi-Fi or 3G from the iPhone 4. As a cross-platform client, users of Fring on the iPhone can also conduct video calls with users on Android and Symbian S60 devices. Users of older iPhone models can also now participate in two-way video calls using the built-in camera, however the absence of the front-facing camera on these devices makes face-to-face video calling less practical. The latest version also adds iOS 4 multitasking support, a new social stream for integrating Twitter, Facebook, chats and call updates in a single view, and a smarter address book for managing the buddy list and contacts. Fring is available from the App Store as a free download.

Update: Our preliminary testing indicates that the two-way video calling works fine on older iPhone models as well, although as noted the feature may be less useful here due to the lack of a front-facing camera. Video and audio quality are noticeably lower than FaceTime, even over a Wi-Fi connection. Further, on the iPhone 4 only the front-facing camera appears to be used with no way of switching to the rear-facing camera as in FaceTime. The main advantages over FaceTime are 3G support and compatibility with older iPhone models and Android and Symbian S60 devices.

Apple held 24.4% of U.S. smartphone market March - May

According to the latest data from comScore, Apple accounted for 24.4% of the U.S. smartphone market for the three months ending in May. RIM was once again the market leader with a 41.7% share of the market; Apple was second, followed by Microsoft with 13.2%, Google’s Android with 13%, and Palm with 4.8%. Apple’s percentage, which is based on smartphone subscribers and is taken as an average from the three month period, is down slightly from the 25.4% share the company held in the three months ending in February 2010, but does not account for any sales of the iPhone 4, while likely including some sales that were delayed or lost as details of the new handset leaked prior to its official unveiling. [via MDN]

BMW Group announces iPod Out support for iOS 4

The BMW Group, makers of both BMW and Mini automobiles, has announced its support for the new iPod Out feature of iOS 4 for the iPhone and iPod touch. Using iPod Out, BMW’s new interface technology enables the company’s in-car infotainment systems to display and control music playback via the vehicle’s main display—using a Click Wheel iPod-like menu—and interface controls, while leaving room for other crucial information like GPS routing. Other features, such as custom playlists and Genius, will also be available. BMW claims that future vehicles equipped with the technology “will be able to adapt more quickly to the software lifecycles of iPod touch and iPhone,” but failed to specify when the new interface technology might be available, or if it can be rolled out to current models via a software update.

Airfoil Speakers Touch now supports background audio

Rogue Amoeba has released an update to Airfoil Speakers Touch adding support for background audio on multitasking capable iOS 4 devices. Airfoil Speakers Touch allows users to stream audio to their iOS device from a Mac or PC on the same Wi-Fi network, effectively allowing the iPhone or iPod touch to act as a set of remote headphones. With the latest update users of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod touch can now keep Airfoil Speakers Touch playing audio in the background while using other applications. The update also includes updated graphics for the iPhone 4 Retina Display and several other minor improvements. Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.1 is available from the App Store as a free download. Streaming audio from a PC or Mac requires Airfoil for Mac or Airfoil for Windows to be installed on the host computer.

AT&T: Upload speed loss due to software defect

AT&T has released an official statement on recent reports of slow upload speeds observed by some iPhone 4 users. “AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent jointly identified a software defect—triggered under certain conditions - that impacted uplink performance for Laptop Connect and smartphone customers using 3G HSUPA-capable wireless devices in markets with Alcatel-Lucent equipment. This impacts less than two percent of our wireless customer base,” AT&T said in the statement. “While Alcatel-Lucent develops the appropriate software fix, we are providing normal 3G uplink speeds and consistent performance for affected customers with HSUPA-capable devices.”

SoftBank adds nearly 230,000 on strength of iPhone

SoftBank has announced that it registered 229,500 net new subscribers in June, outpacing rival carriers NTT DoCoMo and KDDI. The Wall Street Journal reports that while the company doesn’t break out specific iPhone sales numbers, Apple’s handsets—particularly the iPhone 4, which launched in Japan on June 24—is likely to have made a substantial contribution to that figure. Overall, SoftBank has added roughly three-quarter of a million new subscribers in the last three months. SoftBank is the exclusive service provider for both the iPhone and iPad in Japan.

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