iOS 4.3 review

While iOS 4.0 brought us the much-demanded multitasking, subsequent updates haven’t been restricted to mere bug fixes (think AirPlay, AirPrint, Game Center, and so on) and iOS 4.3 is no exception, bringing the Personal Hotspot feature, Home Sharing, and some smaller niceties.

Personal Hotspot lets you share your iPhone’s 3G data connection with other devices via WiFi, USB, or Bluetooth. (Note that iPhone 3GS users can only share network connections via Bluetooth and USB, and not WiFi.)

For iPhone 4 users, the feature replaces the tethering function that debuted in iOS 3.0. Tethering was limited – it only worked over Bluetooth or USB and supported a single connected device – and it cost around £15 per month, on top of your monthly tariff. The Personal Hotspot feature is more attractive. UK mobile networks are still finalising the details of their plans, but we can confirm the following: if you’re on The One Plan with Three tethering is included, so there’s no extra cost for Personal Hotspot; O2 is soon to offer new tariffs, but says for now its customers can get an Internet Tethering Bolt On for £7.50 a month (500GB); T-Mobile offers Pay Monthly customers a Mobile Broadband Booster for £5.10 a month (1GB); Orange says it it will offer tethering for £5 a month (500MB); Vodafone will also offer 500MB for £5.

Personal Hotspot is enabled within the iOS update; but you'll need a data package that supports it from your mobile service provider.

The Personal Hotspot feature is simple to set up: once you’ve changed your data plan, simply enable the hotspot feature under Settings > General > Network, and a new Personal Hotspot sub-menu appears in the top level of Settings. From there you can turn the feature on or off and set a WiFi password. Clients can then connect via WiFi or Bluetooth, or you can plug your iPhone into your Mac via USB.

In terms of performance, USB provided the best throughput in out tests. Bluetooth was the worst, which is no surprise, given that Bluetooth is generally slower than a 3G connection. You can only have a maximum of three devices connected via WiFi, but can add other clients via Bluetooth or USB. Of course, the more clients you add, the slower the connection will get.

If you have an iPad, you can connect it to your iPhone’s hotspot via either WiFi or Bluetooth. (USB is out of the question, however, even if you’re using the iPad Camera Connection Kit.)

Home Sharing
Introduced in iTunes 9, Home Sharing lets you share media from one computer over a local network. That feature is now extended to iOS devices. Once you’ve set up Home Sharing on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you’ll be able to toggle back and forth between playing media from your mobile device and from Home Sharing-enabled computers on your network.

Setup is easy, if a bit obscure. First, you’ll need to enter your Apple ID in Settings > iPod. Accessing shared libraries isn’t always obvious, though. On the iPhone, you tap the More button in the iPod app’s toolbar and then select the new Shared option. To access shared libraries on the iPad you tap the Library header in the iPod app. (For more on setting up Home Sharing on iOS devices, check out our how-to article on the subject, http://tinyurl.com/6x5w2all).

Performance in streaming is very good: music and short videos start playing almost immediately. Longer videos (or HD ones) can take some time to buffer before they start playing back. Quality is very good in all cases. Playback was smooth, even with multiple devices streaming from the same library.

One missing feature is the ability to stream content from an iOS device to another iOS  device or a Mac or PC. If you have an Apple TV or AirPort Express, there is another option: AirPlay.

AirPlay debuted in iOS 4.2 and iTunes 10. In iOS 4.3, AirPlay gets beefed up with the ability to stream video from compatible websites, third-party applications, and the Photos app (though strangely not the Camera app).

Third-party apps will need to add support for AirPlay video. For websites the video needs to be in a format that iOS devices can play (H.264-encoded MPEG4 videos), and the video providers will have to define their videos as AirPlay compatible.

OUR VERDICT

iOS 4.3 is a solid update, and offers far more than we’d expect from a point release. While it’s not going to fulfil all our hopes and dreams, it makes Apple’s mobile devices more capable, and that’s about all anyone can ask for.

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