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iOS 4.1: Does it Work? Should You Install It?

As Apple announced last week, iOS 4.1 is now available for download and installation via iTunes. I recommend that you install it, assuming you have an iPhone or iPod touch that can run it, meaning any iPhone or iPod touch other than the first generation of either model. iPad users must wait for iOS 4.2, scheduled for release in November 2010, before they get iOS 4 features.

Lots of people have already updated to iOS 4.1 without a hitch, and the new features and fixes make it a worthwhile update. Some changes, such as better performance for the iPhone 3G, more complete Bluetooth support, and HDR photos on the iPhone 4, make these devices more useful; other changes, such as iTunes Store TV rentals and the new Game Center, will make them more entertaining to many users.

If you have an iPhone 4, you'll find a few iOS 4.1 changes that aren't available on the other devices:

  • In the Camera app, HDR (high dynamic range) photo support should help you take a better photo with no extra effort, but at the expense of a few more seconds of post-shutter-click processing. Look for an HDR On/Off button on the screen as you take a photo.

  • If you record HD video, you can now upload it via Wi-Fi to YouTube and MobileMe.

  • While you hold your phone up to your ear during a call, the proximity sensor should be smarter about realizing that any button taps are being accidentally made by your head, not by your finger. This should prevent some calls from dropping.

    I've read a few reports that suggest that this fix isn't working for everyone. If it's not working for you, try holding the iPhone normally against your ear and cheek during a call - you may have trained yourself to hold it away from your face because of previous dropped calls. I've also read the suggestion that you may solve residual proximity sensor problems by resetting the iPhone's settings in Settings > General > Reset. Tap Reset All Settings. Of course, you'll now have to recreate various user-generated settings, so don't do this unless your desire for a possible fix outweighs the trouble of losing your settings. You may also want to wait a few days and see if more information becomes available.

If you have any iOS 4-capable device besides the iPhone 3G, the new Game Center app will appear on your home screen, giving you access to multi-player games.

And, iOS 4 makes these changes, no matter which iOS 4-capable device you install it on:

  • In the iTunes app, you can now rent TV shows.

  • Playback controls on AVRCP Bluetooth accessories should all now function properly. For example, buttons on a Bluetooth headset for advancing music to the next or previous track should now work. AVRCP, in case you're wondering, stands for Audio/Visual Remote Control Profile.

  • If you have the Nike+iPod device, look for changes in the Nike+ app. According to the impressively detailed article at iLounge about iOS 4.1, the Nike+ app now can sync with its Web site and has fancier options for interacting with the site.

  • Parental controls in the Settings app now let you disable FaceTime "phone" calls, as well as the multi-player option in Game Center.

You can read more about the new features and fixes in "Apple Previews iOS 4.1 and 4.2" (1 September 2010).

An important additional fix listed in Apple's release notes is better performance for the iPhone 3G. Following up on my article "Speed Up Your iOS 4-Based iPhone 3G " (27 August 2010), I installed the update on my iPhone 3G. I can't tell if the iPhone 3G is exactly as fast with iOS 4.1 as it was with iOS 3.1.3, but it seems about the same. Many reports on the Web confirm my impression. If you'd like to see for yourself, watch the iPhone 3G Speed Test: iOS 4.0 version iOS 4.1 video at Lifehacker. Thumbs up to Apple for not leaving the iPhone 3G abandoned on the highway of progress, though it would have been better if iPhone 3G owners hadn't had to suffer months of poor performance and poor communication about the problem.

Although several people have reported that iOS 4.1 has solved performance problems on the second-generation iPod touch, Apple said nothing about it in the release notes for iOS 4.1.

Further, a new feature of iOS 4 overall is that notes from the Notes app can sync with MobileMe. In iOS 4.1 Apple inexplicably removed this feature from the iPhone 3G and the second-generation iPod touch. Apple mentions this removal briefly in a support article that was modified last week. Better release notes would have saved time and trouble for those who unexpectedly lost the capability to sync their notes wirelessly.

(By the way, several readers have commented that one tip or another in the article about speeding up an iPhone 3G improved the speed of an iPhone 3G running iOS 3.1.3. The article is likely worth a read if your iPhone - whatever model - is running slowly.)

Installing iOS 4.1 will take some time, so don't start the update right before you want to leave the house. It took about 30 minutes to download and install iOS 4.1 on my iPhone 3G and about 20 minutes on my iPhone 3GS. In both cases, I was already running iOS 4.0.2. If you're still running iOS 3.1.3, expect the update to take as long as a few hours, especially if you have a lot of content on your device.


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Comments about iOS 4.1: Does it Work? Should You Install It?
(Comments are closed.)

M. Perry  2010-09-09 11:05
I had no problems installing iOS 4.1 on my 2g iPod touch, although it did irritatingly stick Game Center on my Home page, moving the last app there to a blank page of its own.

I am irritated, however, that Apple hasn't said a word about what iOS 4.1 means for millions of iPod touch users. The 2g touch CPU is about 100 MHz faster than that in the 3G, so it isn't as sluggish, but it would help to know if the 3G fixes also apply to a touch and if the very nasty battery drain issue has been fixed.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-09 11:13
Good points about the iPod touch. I've noticed from an editorial standpoint that the touch is often mentioned only briefly, with the assumption that touch owners will figure out on their own whether the details of the write-up apply to their model. There is probably an interesting psychological explanation for why this is so.

I tried to include the iPod touch in the article above, but, indeed, there's more to be said, but difficult to research.

I appreciate reader comments here that help to clarify the situation for an iPod touch, and certainly it would be a big help if Apple would tell all!
Moving my 2nd gen iPod Touch to iOS4.0 was an upgrade in name only, as performance suffered, and one app I use frequently (Pandora) became nearly unusable. I figured things could scarcely be worse, so went ahead with the iOS4.1 update. I'm happy to report that this seems to have solved both issues.
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-09 14:35
That's good news! I hope to hear from a few iPod touch users with similar reports.
I too am disappointed by the sparing detail on what this updated does for 2nd gen iPod Touch users, besides add Game Center.
Ron Manke  2010-09-10 13:30
Too bad the proximity sensor "fixes" actually broke my proximity sensor, which was working fine until I installed 4.1
Derek Denyer  2010-09-11 03:05
I'm getting usefully better battery life from my 4G. About 40% to 50% better. This was a rather unexpected bonus. Update was otherwise uneventful.
Rick DeNatale  2010-09-11 18:50
My iPhone 4 would occasionally go on mute or generate dial tones when I held it up to my ear before I installed 4.1.

I was eagerly awaiting the 'fix' to this problem but...

After I installed 4.1 it does it on almost every call.
Bob Siegel  2010-09-12 18:13
IOS4.1 seems to have fixed most of my 3G problems but it removed the ability to sync notes to mobile me. The notes section in settings - mail -contacts - calendars - mobile me is not there as it was in 4.0. Have they moved it some where else? It was a feature I liked having. Am I missing something?
Also it is great that they finally got the ability to use mobile me aliases in mail replies
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-14 04:49
I hadn't noticed that notes syncing via MobileMe had been disabled until Bob mentioned it. Sure enough, on my iPhone 3G in Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > MobileMe, the option to turn Notes syncing on or off has disappeared.

I looked around on the Internet to see what others have reported. I found a thread on the Apple Discussion boards where other people were discussing the disappearance and I found this Apple support article:, which says, "Over-the-air Notes syncing is not supported on iPhone 3G or iPod touch (2nd generation). You can sync notes over a USB connection using iTunes."

I don't know why this happened - what the rationale is, but it does seem that it has occurred. If you want to sync Apple's notes to an iPhone 3G or second-generation iPod touch, you are back to iTunes. I gather that there are lots of third-party note-taking apps that might be worth a look, but I haven't perso
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-13 08:09
This morning I modified the text of the article to say something about how some iPhone 4 users are still reporting poor proximity sensor performance, to note that iOS 4.1 appears to have also improved performance across the board for owners of second-generation iPod touches, and to mention that MobileMe-based notes syncing is no longer working for the second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G.
Can somebody quickly tell me if it's worth the effort to put iOS 4.1 on an iPhone 3G? Which of the new iOS 4 features are actually available on the iPhone 3G apart from folders?

I have a 3G here that's still on iOS 3. I held out on iOS 4 because 4.0 was reported to make the 3G so sluggish. Now that's apparently fixed, but I'm still wondering if there's any reason I should actually do the update? Is it worth the time time & effort?
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-14 01:10
See this table at Apple for a list of which iOS 4 features are available to which iPhones:
Just what I was looking for. Thanks, Jeff.
> In the iTunes app, you can now rent TV shows...

...if you live in the U.S. !
Tonya Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-14 06:01
Oh, drat! I forgot to check on _where_ you can rent the shows. Sorry about that. Anybody out there from anywhere besides the United States able to rent anything? It's possible that there'd be different options in different countries, at least eventually.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-14 08:55
We mentioned this in our article about the Apple TV, when TV rentals were announced:

"The company says iTunes TV show rentals and Netflix streaming are available only in the United States, and movie rentals are available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK, as well"

Though to be honest, it's not surprising. This has been the case since the beginning of rentals (heck, since the beginning of the iTunes Store). The problem lies with the demands of the entertainment companies, who have chopped up the world into discrete markets that might have made sense in the physical media age but are silly with downloads.

From what I understand, it's a HUGE nest of tangles to secure rights around the world, so Apple starts with its home turf, the US.
I'm dreaming that someone like Netflix could set up a subsidiary or something in Japan, and start shaking things up a bit.
Michael Paine  2010-09-14 23:56
It might be best to turn the SIM PIN off before doing a major update. My Australian Optus iPhone was unusable until I put the SIM in another phone, turned the PIN off and put it back in the iPhone.
Fernando Alfaro  2010-09-16 09:28
I installed ios 4.1 on my wife's iphone 4. She had experienced Bluetooth connectivity issues prior. iOS 4.1 appeared to have fixed it initially but now she appears to have similar issues with the phone. She has tried a Motorolla and a Jawbone Icon with no success. I guess iOS 4.1 does not completely fix this issue.
Roberto  2010-09-23 01:29
Using iOS 4.1 on a 3G can result in calls failing to be set up. Seems to be something related to WiFi. There is an active thread on Apple's discussion boards.