Only two days left until Apple releases the first major upgrade to the iOS 4 mobile operating system on Wednesday, September 8. Apple lists a number of enhancements and features that will be added with iOS 4.1, but the things that make iOS 4.1 a critical update are buried in the Apple fine print.
In announcing the upcoming iOS 4.1, Apple has focused attention on what it adds to the iOS 4 experience. HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos, uploading HD video via Wi-Fi, and the new iTunes Ping and Game Center features are nice, but nobody has been clamoring for those or anxiously awaiting new features.
The critical components of iOS 4.1 were nestled somewhere in the "oh yeah - it also addresses some reported issues with the proximity sensor, Bluetooth, and iPhone 3GS performance" part of the announcement that hasn't gotten as much attention. Why are these fixes so important?
Proximity Sensor. The proximity sensor is supposed to recognize when the iPhone is engaged in a call, and detect ambient light and other factors to determine when the phone is near the user's face. The idea is to disable the touchscreen display so you don't inadvertently press buttons with your cheek while in a call. Unfortunately, the iPhone 4 proximity sensor is flaky and dysfunctional for many users, making calls with the iPhone 4 somewhat of a gamble.
Bluetooth. There are also a fair number of iPhone 4 users who are reporting issues with the quality of the Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth wireless earpieces that worked flawlessly with the iPhone 3GS have such poor sound quality that they are unusable for those experiencing the Bluetooth issue. Many business professionals rely on the Bluetooth capabilities for hands-free communication while on the go or while driving in the car.
Performance on iPhone 3GS. Not all of the iOS 4 concerns are related to the iPhone 4. Many iPhone 3GS users claim that the smartphone is frustratingly slow after upgrading to iOS 4. A PCWorld hands-on review of the pre-release iOS 4.1 confirms that it does, in fact, drastically improve performance.
Social gaming with Game Center and social music with iTunes Ping might be cool on some level, but they don't fundamentally alter the functionality of the iPhone as a smartphone. Uploading HD video and taking HDR photos might be exciting for some, but those features won't improve the iPhone 4 as a business tool.
The world is counting down to the release of iOS 4.1 on Wednesday, but not for the reasons Apple is promoting. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this update will actually resolve these issues so we can move on. Maybe then users will have the freedom to care about bells and whistles.