Apple released a beta of iOS 4.3 to developers Wednesday afternoon. Just a day after unveiling a Verizon-compatible iPhone with a mobile hotspot feature, iOS 4.3 beta 1 adds the option to (potentially) all compatible iPhones, in addition to greater support for AirPlay, four- and five-finger multitouch gestures, and more.
First, the bad news: this first beta is only compatible with iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, third- and fourth-gen iPod touches, and iPads. Apple may be leaving the iPhone 3G and earlier iPod touches in the dust with this latest software upgrade.
The good news is that iOS 4.3 offers several new or improved features for the iOS devices it does support. For instance, GSM iPhones will be able to access and use the Personal Hotspot feature introduced with the Verizon-compatible iPhone announced on Tuesday. Whether or not your particular carrier will support the feature is still a matter to be decided, though. "We can't say if it will come to AT&T," Apple VP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller answered coyly when we asked yesterday if the feature would spread to iPhones on other carriers like AT&T.
Also, new APIs in iOS 4.3 will allow developers to extend AirPlay support to their own apps instead of just the limited few from Apple. Accordingly, here is an iOS 4.3 update for Apple TV which supports the broader AirPlay rollout and allows developers to test AirPlay features. There's no word if AirPlay has been extended to support device-to-Mac sharing or device-to-device sharing enabled by some recent software hacks from developer Erica Sadun, however.
Finally, there are several feature additions for the iPad. New four- and five-finger gestures offer quick access to the Home Screen, multitasking bar, and for switching between active apps. A new preference lets users configure the hardware switch on the iPad to work either as a mute control or as a orientation lock (yay!). And iPads can now display full-screen iAds and also collect HTTP Live Streaming stats for developers to get a better understanding of how users are streaming content.
There's also word that a new FaceTime icon is appearing in the betas—that icon is also in the iPad version of the firmware, further supporting the long-standing belief that next-generation iPad hardware will include a front-facing, FaceTime-compatible camera.
We haven't yet seen any mention of support for recurring subscription charges reportedly rumored for iOS 4.3, which would enable content providers to charge users' iTunes accounts on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. That feature is ostensibly needed for News Corps' iPad-only The Daily news app, originally expected in December but later delayed until late January of this year.
No release date has been set for iOS 4.3, though iOS 4.2 went through a beta period of about five weeks last fall.