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iPhone 2.2 Software Enhances Maps, Tweaks Interface

Apple has released the iPhone 2.2 Software Update for all models of the iPhone and iPod touch, beefing up a number of key features and refining the interface even further. The software is about 248 MB and is available only via iTunes.

New Features — Chief among the new features of the iPhone 2.2 software are enhancements to the Maps app, including the extremely helpful addition of public transit and walking directions, pictures from Google Street View, a Share Location button that creates an email message containing a Google Maps URL to the location, and the capability to display the address of dropped pins. (These features were not added to the iPod touch Maps application.)

Google collects Street View information by driving the streets of major cities around the world with cameras that capture information in a nearly complete sphere (excluding most of the sky) around the vehicle. Street View is shown on Google Maps on the Web and via the desktop version of Google Earth. In the browser version, you click a Street View button, and blue outlines appear around city blocks in which Street View information is available.

No such luck on the iPhone. To use Street View, you must drop a pin (or perform a search and tap on a pin), and then examine whether a tiny Street View icon – an orange person – is tinted fainter or at full intensity on the descriptive bubble that appears. If at full intensity, you tap the tiny icon, and the Maps application rotates into landscape view to display a navigable image.

A small circle shows the current cone of sight and street location. You can drag, pinch, and expand, while tapping an arrow moves the view to the next street slice. There’s no warning when data runs out; an empty “holodeck” image appears instead.

The iTunes app also gains the capability to download podcasts over either Wi-Fi or the cellular network. Previously, podcasts could be downloaded only to the iPhone or iPod touch’s host computer and then synced via USB. However, for reasons I don’t yet understand, the iPod touch can’t play the TidBITS podcast within the iTunes app, although downloading it works fine.

Interface Refinements — Although I’m guessing there will be more interface tweaks found by alert users in the days to come, Apple calls out a few in particular:

  • You can now jump from any extra Home screen back to the first one by pressing the Home button. This is a good first step, but Apple will have to improve the Home screen interface further, since it’s becoming nearly impossible to find any given icon after installing a bunch of apps.
  • There’s now a preference to toggle auto-correction in the Keyboard Settings. Although auto-correction is generally a good thing, there are times when it’s annoying, and some people absolutely hate it.
  • Safari features a new search-friendly interface, which means basically that a Google search field shows next to the address field, much as in the full version of Safari.

Bug Fixes — The main advantage of a “soft” phone like the iPhone (where much of the functionality is in software, rather than burned into the phone’s chips) is that it’s possible not just to add features, but to fix problems that would bedevil other phones forever. Apple’s only copping to “Decrease in call setup failures and dropped calls,” the same wording used for improvements in previous releases, but if true, it’s certainly welcome. Apple also says that the sound quality of Visual Voicemail messages has been improved.

Mail receives two important bug fixes, one that resolves problems with scheduled fetching of incoming email, and another that improves the formatting of wide HTML-formatted messages. Too-wide email can play havoc with the iPhone’s narrow screen, as we’ve discovered with the hard-wrapped text edition of TidBITS, where the lines break tremendously awkwardly. If you want to read TidBITS in email on your iPhone or iPod touch, we strongly recommend that you subscribe to our full-text HTML edition, which displays very nicely.

Other bug fixes include improved performance and stability of Safari and fixes for problems connecting to certain secure WPA Wi-Fi networks.

Not surprisingly in this day and age, there are also quite a few fixes related to security. Along with the usual problems that could result in application crashes or arbitrary code execution (usually from visiting a malicious Web site or viewing a maliciously crafted image), there were a few more interesting items fixed.

  • A maliciously crafted TIFF could have caused the entire iPhone or iPod touch to reset, due to a memory exhaustion issue. I sometimes worry that my personal TIFF handling has the same problem, since I occasionally have memory exhaustion issues too.
  • The encryption level for PPTP VPN connections could previously have reverted to a lower setting, resulting in a lower security level than expected.
  • The Passcode Lock feature wasn’t properly restricting calls when locked to only emergency numbers. Also, restoring an iPhone from backup wasn’t always re-enabling Passcode Lock. And finally, SMS messages could be revealed while the emergency call screen was visible – there’s now only a notification that an SMS message has arrived.
  • It was previously possible for a phone call to be placed by a maliciously crafted Web site, if an app was launched via Safari while a call approval dialog was showing.

Overall, it appears that the iPhone 2.2 Software will provide extremely welcome improvements and fixes; the question as always will be if there are other problems introduced by the update, and for that we’ll just have to wait for user reports.

What’s Still Missing — Much as the new features and bug fixes in the iPhone 2.2 Software Update are welcome, the wishlist of features for future updates remains largely unchanged.

  • Copy-and-paste stays at the top of the wanted list, although there’s no question that this one will require some serious thought on Apple’s part, given the restrictions of the multi-touch interface.
  • Voice dialing is a close second, although I suspect AT&T will at some point offer a for-fee service that provides this capability, despite the fact that the iPhone could likely handle voice dialing in its sleep.
  • Despite the addition of transit and walking directions to Maps on the iPhone (but not the iPod touch), we still haven’t seen turn-by-turn voice directions. That would enable an iPhone to take over for a standalone car navigation GPS and would increase the iPhone value proposition greatly for some people. Apple has muttered about not wanting to be liable for GPS-caused driving mistakes, but I suspect there’s more to it than that.
  • It’s odd that a device as savvy about multimedia as the iPhone lacks MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) support. I’d finger AT&T as the guilty party in this one.
  • Even though Apple previously promised system-wide push notifications on the iPhone by September 2008, this feature still hasn’t appeared. Since the iPhone doesn’t let third-party applications run in the background, this feature would provide another way for apps that aren’t currently running to receive real-time updates from Apple’s servers.
  • Finally, the iPhone still can’t handle Flash-enabled sites or content. Adobe is developing a Flash Player for the iPhone, but unless the performance can meet Apple’s standards, it may never see the light of day.

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