Today Apple released iOS 4.1 for the iPhone and iPod touch. Announced at the company’s fall event last week, iOS 4.1 builds on the new features added in the major 4.0 update earlier this year, delivering additional promised features such as Game Center and adding a few other new features and small refinements.
Downloading and Installing
As with all other previous iOS updates, an entire new firmware package is downloaded and applied to the device. Users should expect the update to weight in at between 300-600MB depending upon your specific device model. Unlike the iOS 4.0 update, this should simply install on current iOS 4.0 devices 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 iPhone or iPod touch prior to starting. iTunes should handle this for you automatically and you can check the status of your iOS device backups by visiting the Devices page in your iTunes preferences.
Note that if you’re updating from iOS 3 the same update process applies as it did with iOS 4.0—notably that second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G devices will be erased and restored as part of this process with an additional FULL backup of the device being made, 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.
Again, however, this issue only applies to the second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G if you’re not already running iOS 4.0 on these devices. The third-generation iPod touch, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 should upgrade in-place. See Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 4.0 for more information on the iOS 3 to iOS 4 update process.
By this time it should come as no big revelation that first-generation iPod touch and iPhone devices cannot run iOS 4, and nothing has changed with the release of iOS 4.1. These older devices are now being permanently left behind with iOS 3.1.3 as the latest version available.
Features such as multitasking, home screen wallpapers and Bluetooth keyboard support remain available only on the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod touch—this hasn’t changed in iOS 4.1.
With the advent of Game Center, however, another model distinction has appeared: Game Center will be available on all iOS 4.1 devices with the sole exception of the iPhone 3G. Unlike other high-end iOS 4.1 features, Game Center is available on the second-generation iPod touch, yet for some mysterious reason Apple has chosen to leave the iPhone 3G quite literally out of the game.
Game Center (all models except iPhone 3G)
The most significant new feature in iOS 4.1 is the unveiling of Apple’s new Game Center social gaming service. Originally announced at the iOS 4 event in April, Game Center promised to be an Apple-built social gaming service that third-party developers could tie their games into for online leader boards, player matchmaking and multiplayer gaming. The service was released in a closed developer-only environment for iOS 4.0, allowing third-party game developers to get their games ready for a later release.
Game Center is now available on all iOS 4.1 devices with the exception of the iPhone 3G and the Game Center network is now live, allowing users to sign up and create Game Center profiles right from within the app.
Launching Game Center for the first time will provide you with an opportunity to either setup a completely new profile or sign in as an existing user. You can sign in with an existing Apple ID such as your iTunes Store account or choose to create an entirely new profile from scratch. When signing up for the first time, either with an existing Apple ID or a new ID you will first need to enter or confirm your date of birth and then agree to the Game Center terms and conditions. You can read these directly on your device or tap the link at the top of the screen to have them e-mailed to you. The “Accept” button is found at the very bottom of the agreement text.
When signing in with your Apple ID, existing information such as your full name and date of birth will be retrieved from your Apple profile and you will only need to fill in any Game Center specific information such as your Game Center nickname and alternate e-mail addresses you would like associated with your profile. Entering additional e-mail addresses allows you to receive Game Center invitations sent to any of the listed e-mail addresses. The Find by E-mail feature can also be disabled entirely, in which case users will only be able to find you by entering your Game Center nickname.
For users under 13 years of age, the sign-up process is a little bit different due to online privacy laws. Children signing up with an Apple ID will still need to create an entirely separate Game Center profile with its own user ID and password and will not be prompted to enter information such as their full name or e-mail address. A note is also displayed advising children to refrain from using their real name as their Game Center nickname and the Find by E-Mail feature is unavailable to Game Center users under the age of 13. The Terms and Conditions e-mail link will also read Send to My Parent or Guardian, implying that the child’s own e-mail address should not be used for this purpose.
These restrictions are based primarily on information collection, and no other restrictions are built into the Game Center service for children under the age of 13. Instead, iOS 4.1 relies on the parental controls built into iOS to restrict Game Center access in the same manner as other parts of the iOS environment. A new setting in the parental controls section allows Multi Player Games to be switched off. This will result in all options related to sending or receiving friend requests being disabled in the Game Center app, although users will still have access to their existing friends list. This allows parents to setup a static “approved” friends list for their children and then lock down the setting to prevent additional friends from being added. Any friend requests received while parental restrictions are in effect are silently discarded by the Game Center app with no response to the person sending the request.
The process of sending and receiving friend requests in Game Center is relatively straightforward. In both the Friends and Requests sections, a plus button in the top-right corner allows new friend requests to be sent out. Users simply need to enter the Game Center nickname or e-mail address of a friend they would like to invite and can optionally change the default greeting. Users can also be selected from the iOS contact list either by typing and using autocomplete or tapping the button that appears to the right of the entry field.
Received Friend Requests appear as Push Notifications allowing the recipient to immediately accept the request or close the notification and deal with it later in the Game Center app. A badge count is displayed on the Game Center app icon indicating pending friend requests as well as on the Requests button within the app itself. Friend Requests can be accepted or ignored; the sending user is not notified of ignored requests. Sadly, Friend Requests and even details of current friends provide almost no information on who is actually sending you the request—you get to see the person’s Game Center nickname and whatever message they’ve entered as part of the request, but no real name, e-mail address, or even information on what country they’re from. Even after accepting a Friend Request no other information is provided beyond their Game Center status message. This can make it difficult to make any kind of a useful decision on any friend requests that you receive, although since your own profile includes just as little information it may not really matter which friend requests you accept.
A Games tab presumably allows users to see a list of Game Center games that they have played or installed on their device, with an option to find additional Game Center games online. As of this writing, there are not yet any games available on the App Store for Game Center, and the “Find Game Center Games” link simply opens Safari to the Apple Game Center information page.
This will presumably provide more useful information once Game Center games begin appearing.
Camera & Photos (iPhone 4 and 4G iPod touch only)
iOS 4.1 also makes some enhancements to the iPhone Camera and Photos apps, providing support for High Dynamic Range photos, HD video uploads and improved camera controls on the iPhone 4 and 4G iPod touch.
HDR Photos (iPhone 4 only)
Previewed at least week’s Apple event, High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a new feature for the iPhone 4 that allows users to take pictures with improved light range and contrast. The technology works by taking three photos in rapid succession and then combining them into a single HDR photo.
On the iPhone 4 a new button appears at the top center of the screen allowing the HDR feature to be toggled on or off similar to the flash controls. The HDR feature is only available when using the rear-facing camera and requires the flash to be off—enabling HDR will automatically toggle the flash off, and turning the flash back on while HDR is enabled will automatically disable HDR. The flash returns to its previous setting when toggling HDR back off again.
Taking HDR photos will add around 3-5 seconds of additional processing time, depending on the complexity of the photo, A “Saving HDR” progress indicator is displayed while the HDR image is being processed and saved. HDR photos are indicated during viewing by a small “HDR” tag that appears overlaid in the top-right corner of the photo. By default, both the normal and HDR version of the photo is saved to the camera roll, although the saving of normal photos can be switched off in the Photos settings.
How useful or necessary the HDR feature is will depend largely on the subject matter and lighting conditions, although as one might expect it works best in conditions where there is a wide range of different lighting and contrast. A comparison below shows the non-HDR and HDR version of the same photo side-by-side (click for a full-resolution view).
HD Video Uploads
iOS 4.1 introduces the ability to upload recorded high-definition videos over Wi-Fi from the iPhone 4 and 4G iPod touch to both YouTube and MobileMe. When uploading a video to either of these services from within the Photos app you can now choose to upload in either Standard Definition or HD quality with size estimates provided for each format.
HD videos can only be uploaded over a Wi-Fi connection. When using a 3G data connection, only the Standard Definition option will be available, with a note that the HD option requires Wi-Fi.
Landscape Camera Controls
iOS 4.1 also makes another minor change to the on-screen camera controls, now presenting them at the top of the screen whether in portrait or landscape orientation. Previously, the controls would rotate when in landscape orientation but would stay in the same positions on the screen. They now move to the top of the screen to retain the same relative positions in both orientations.
TV Show Rentals
Another big announcement during last week’s Apple event was the introduction of TV Shows available as rentals from the iTunes Store. Unlike Movie Rentals, however, many were surprised to discover that TV Show Rentals are restricted to iOS 4.1 devices. As a result, iOS 4.1 is the version that introduces support for this feature, both in terms of syncing TV Show rentals from iTunes 10 and purchasing TV Show rentals directly on the iOS device.
TV Show rentals carry most of the same restrictions are movie rentals: They can be rented on the iPhone 4 and 4G iPod touch in either standard- or high-definition formats, iPhone 4 and 4G iPod touch users will not be able to move rentals made on the device back to iTunes and HD Rentals cannot be played using the iPhone 4 Dock Connector to VGA Adapter. Further, the iOS 4.1 requirement means that for now at least, TV Show Rentals cannot be rented or watched on the iPad. TV Shows are rented by episode only—no season pass is available at this time—and unlike movies are organized in the iOS iPod Videos section alongside purchased TV shows rather than in a separate Rentals section.
TV Show Rentals made in iTunes 10 or on earlier iPhone and iPod touch models can be transferred between your device and iTunes in the same way as movie rentals are handled. A Rented TV Shows section appears at the top of the “TV Shows” sync settings in iTunes 10 whenever a compatible device is attached and there is rented content available in either iTunes or on the device. Indicators for SD and HD content are conspicuously absent on this screen, although the size of each item is displayed.
Rented TV Show episodes are moved between iTunes 10 and iOS 4.1 devices in much the same way as rented movies—a rented TV show episode can only be in one place at a time, and users must be connected to the Internet to transfer rented content between devices. As noted earlier, TV Shows rented directly on the iPhone 4 or 4G iPod touch cannot be moved back to iTunes and will simply not appear on this screen at all.
Rented TV Shows remain in your iTunes library or on your device for up to 30 days from the time you rent them and will expire 48 hours from the time you begin watching. Note that at this time, TV Show rentals are only available from the U.S. iTunes Store.
FaceTime (iPhone 4 and 4G iPod touch only)
iOS 4.1 also brings a few additions to Apple’s FaceTime feature introduced on the iPhone 4. FaceTime contacts can now be added to the Favorites list on the iPhone 4, calls can now be made to 4G iPod touch users and a new parental control option is available to disable FaceTime entirely.
FaceTime contact information can now be added to the iPhone 4 Favorites list, allowing for one-tap calls to FaceTime contacts. Adding a FaceTime contact to a favorite is done in the same manner as adding a voice number—open the contact and tap the “Add to Favorites” button and a prompt will appear asking you whether you want to add the number to your Favorites as a Voice Call or FaceTime call. Note that this prompt only appears if the contact is not already listed in your favorites, otherwise they’re simply added using the second method without prompting.
FaceTime by E-Mail Address
When FaceTime was introduced on the iPhone 4, users’ phone numbers were used to register automatically with the FaceTime network, an approach that provided simple registration and made sense since every iPhone should normally have an assigned cellular number. With the introduction of FaceTime support on the fourth-generation iPod touch it becomes necessary to use an e-mail address instead for iPod touch users to be identified to the FaceTime network. With iOS 4.1, FaceTime calls can now be made to e-mail addresses for iPod touch users.
Note that the e-mail address is only used for calling 4G iPod touch users, who will need to sign in with their Apple ID and register their e-mail address from the FaceTime app on the device. The iPhone 4 with iOS 4.1 still registers with the FaceTime network only by phone number, meaning that you will need to know what type of device the person you are calling is using, since e-mail based FaceTime calls to iPhone 4 users will fail.
Also note that iPhone 4 users must be using iOS 4.1 to even receive FaceTime calls from 4G iPod touch users.
Bluetooth AVRCP Support
Although Apple added support for stereo Bluetooth accessories last year in iOS 3, this support was limited to basic playback of audio to an A2DP accessory with little to no support for Bluetooth based AVRCP remote control.
iOS 4.1 finally addresses this long-standing issue by providing full AVRCP support for Bluetooth accessories, allowing for not only play/pause control but also track navigation. There is nothing specific that need to be enabled in iOS 4.1 for this—it should just work now when paired with an A2DP/AVRCP compliant Bluetooth accessory.
There have been a few other minor changes in iOS 4.1 that are also worth noting.
Nike+ Wireless Sync
First hinted at in the early iOS 4.0 betas, the built-in Nike+ app now provides the ability to wirelessly sync and upload runs from the Nikeplus.com site.
Uploading a new run transfers you to a iOS-optimized version of the NikePlus.com web site where you can view more information about your runs, set goals and participate in challenges with other Nike+ users.
Disabling Spell Check
The built-in spell check in iOS 4 can now be disabled from the Keyboard preferences. Note that the spell check feature requires Auto-Correction to be enabled and will be disabled and greyed out if Auto-Correction is toggled off.
GMail Archive button
iOS 4.0 introduced the ability to choose whether to Archive or Delete messages when using a GMail account, however the trash bin icon remained displayed at the bottom of the screen regardless of this setting. iOS 4.1 replaces this with an Archive icon when the “Archive Messages” option is enabled in your GMail account settings.
iOS 4.1 also allegedly fixes a number of bugs with the iOS 4.0 release, including problems with the iPhone 4 proximity sensor and slow performance for iPhone 3G users. Since these problems did not affect all iPhone users it is difficult to tell as of yet how successful these bug fixes have been. Performance on the iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod touch appears to be noticeably better, however we did not have any iPhone 3G units that experienced the unbearably slow performance that many other users were reporting.
Please let us know in the comments if you’ve updated to iOS 4.1 on your iPhone 3G and are seeing a performance improvement or better behaviour of the proximity sensor on the iPhone 4.
Thus far, iOS 4.1 doesn’t seem to change much in terms of performance on newer iOS devices such as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and third-generation iPod touch—the update performs about the same on these devices as iOS 4.0 did.
For second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G users, this update should result in a noticeable performance increase, although as noted above it is not yet clear whether it will fix the extremely slow performance experienced by some iPhone 3G users, since this issue appeared to be caused by some other bug in iOS 4.0 rather than simply as a result of general performance issues.
Update or Wait?
With the exception of Game Center and TV Show Rentals, almost all of the new features in iOS 4.1 are targeted at the iPhone 4, with potential fixes that may allow many iPhone 3G users to actually be able to start using iOS 4 on their devices for the first time.
There are some impressive new features here for iPhone 4 users such as HDR photography and the ability to finally upload HD videos to YouTube and MobileMe, including videos exported from Apple’s iMovie app. Further, iPhone 4 users who plan on conducting FaceTime calls with 4G iPod touch owners will require the iOS 4.1 update for this feature alone. If you’re an iPhone 4 user this is definitely an update worth installing.
On the other hand, many iPhone 3GS and iPod touch users will find little of interest here beyond Game Center and proper Bluetooth AVRCP support, although the ability to watch TV Show Rentals on the device and the new wireless Nike+ sync may appeal to a smaller number of users. That said, there seems little reason to recommend against the iOS 4.1 update as it has thus far been stable on all of the device we’ve tested it on. As with any update, only time will tell how many bugs have been fixed and if any new problems have been introduced.