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Apple Previews New Features in iOS 4.3

Along with its official rollout of the iPad 2, Apple revealed a few details of what’s coming in iOS 4.3, which will be a free upgrade for all compatible iOS devices on 11 March 2011.

For iOS 4.3, Apple focused on performance in the Safari app, migrating the Nitro JavaScript engine from Mac OS X to iOS, a move that Apple claims will make Safari run JavaScript up to twice as fast as before. That should help with modern Web sites that rely heavily on JavaScript for interactive elements.

In the ongoing attempt to integrate the media experience on all your connected devices, Apple added a new way to move music, movies, and TV shows from a computer to a Wi-Fi-connected iOS device. Under iOS 4.3, you’ll be able to use the iTunes Home Sharing feature to stream media from iTunes on a local computer to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, thus bypassing a USB-mediated sync. The recently released iTunes 10.2 update makes this possible.

AirPlay (which enables you to stream media from your Mac or iOS device to an AirPort Express base station, Apple TV, or some other AirPlay-enabled device) has been enhanced, with added support for third-party apps and Web sites to enable them to stream full audio and video. Plus, AirPlay now will allow iPads to play photo slideshows using the transitions available on the Apple TV.

A welcome feature for some iPad users in iOS 4.3 is that the small physical switch at the upper right of the iPad will be configurable to serve either as a rotation lock (as it did with the original iOS release on the iPad) or as a mute switch (as it does in iOS 4.2). Apple doesn’t generally like providing options such as this, but the outcry when the switch changed behavior in iOS 4.2 must have convinced them.

In an effort to remain competitive with the new Verizon iPhone and its hotspot feature, Apple announced an official personal hotspot feature for iOS, which — at least initially — will work with the GSM-based iPhone 4 (in the United States, that’s the AT&T iPhone 4). AT&T set pricing a few weeks ago for mobile hotspot features on all its phones as the feature becomes available.

As it did with tethering, AT&T requires you have the $25-per-month, 2 GB DataPro usage plan plus a $20-per-month Personal Hotspot plan, which adds another 2 GB. Users with Personal Hotspot can use a total of 4 GB between on-phone, tethered, and hotspot data. You can switch the hotspot feature on and off, as well as switch between DataPro and DataPlus (200 MB per month for $15) at will. (See “AT&T Changes Tethering to Mobile Hotspot,” 2 February 2011.)

Apple plans to release iOS 4.3 on 11 March 2011 for download via iTunes. It will work with all iPads, the GSM iPhone 4 (which works with AT&T’s network in the United States), and the third- and fourth-generation iPod touch, but not the Verizon iPhone 4, the original iPhone and iPhone 3G, nor the first- or second-generation iPod touch. It’s interesting that the Verizon iPhone 4 can’t run iOS 4.3; presumably a future update will bring all the devices back into parity.

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