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iOS 5.1 Brings Smattering of Features and 4G Confusion

In addition to the iPad hardware that debuted last week (see “Apple Announces Third-Generation iPad,” 7 March 2012), Apple released iOS 5.1 for all iOS 5-compatible devices, which includes all versions of the iPad, the iPhone 3GS and later, and third-generation and later models of the iPod touch. Overall, it’s a maintenance release with a small collection of new features and fixes — but one particular user interface change is causing some confusion.

After updating to iOS 5.1, many AT&T iPhone 4S owners will find that the cellular indicator in the menu bar has changed from 3G to 4G — even though their phones haven’t magically added faster data capabilities. Rather, this change reflects that the iPhone is connecting to AT&T’s HSPA+ network, which is essentially a faster version of 3G. For comparison, HSPA+ supports a maximum raw downstream capability of 14 Mbps compared to a maximum download rate of 73 Mbps for LTE (Long Term Evolution).

Despite the HSPA+ network being a slowpoke compared to LTE, AT&T considers it to be “4G.” If that sounds like a weaselly marketing strategy, it is — but AT&T has been accorded cover for this distinction by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In a press release from December 2010, the ITU agreed that “other evolved 3G technologies” could find shelter under the 4G standards umbrella as long as they provided “a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities” in comparison to current 3G networks.

When the iPhone 4S was launched in October 2011, Phil Schiller even joked about how the carriers wanted to call HSPA+ a “4G technology” (see “New iPhone 4S Adds Voice Recognition and Goes Global,” 4 October 2011), saying: “We’re not going to get into a debate in the industry over what’s 4G and what isn’t, we’ll leave that for others to talk about.” However, as Brad McCarty noted at The Next Web (among many others), iOS 5.1’s terminology change seems to be an acquiescence by Apple to AT&T’s marketing demands, and one that could lead to a slippery slope of additional carrier requests down the

Controversy aside, the iOS 5.1 update does offer several new features that, while not groundbreaking, are certainly welcome. First and foremost, you can now delete individual photos from your iCloud Photo Stream. To do so, open the Photos app, tap the Photo Stream album, and then tap the share button in the top right corner. From there, select individual photos and then tap the red Delete button in the lower right corner. You can also delete the current photo you’re viewing in the Photo Stream album by tapping the trash button.

Other imaging-related additions include enhanced face detection capabilities in the Camera app (being able to recognize more than one face at a time), a redesigned Camera app for the iPad that moves the capture button to the right side of the screen where your thumb is more likely to be, and a new camera shortcut placed on the lock screens of the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and fourth-generation iPod touch. Instead of pressing the Home button twice to open the Camera app from the lock screen, swipe up on the lock screen’s camera button (on the right of the Slide to Unlock slider) to reveal the Camera app.

Apple says that subscribers to iTunes Match will find that Genius Mixes and Genius playlists have returned to their iOS devices, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for many (most?) people. iPad owners will also enjoy “optimized” audio for movies and TV shows that should sound both louder and clearer. Podcast controls for playback speed and rewinding a currently playing podcast by 30 seconds have also returned.

Japanese language support has been added to Siri (joining English, French, and German), though its availability will be limited during the initial rollout. Finally, iOS 5.1 addresses some unnamed bugs that affected battery life and provides a fix for occasional audio dropped during outgoing calls.

To update an iOS 5.0 device to version 5.1, connect it to a computer running iTunes and click the Check for Update button in the device’s Summary screen (if a dialog doesn’t automatically appear). Or, update over the air without connecting to a computer: go to Settings > General > Software Update and follow the instructions there.

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