iOS 4.3 Beta 1

On Wednesday, Apple released iOS 4.3 to developers. The beta is available for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV. Shortly after news of its release I downloaded and installed the beta on my iPad.

Unfortunately, I was too excited to install the beta to realize that it was my iPhone that was registered as a developer device, not my iPad. So after a few emails to a friend, my iPad was registered and I was ready to play around with the new features.

The main features in this beta release are the new four and five finger gestures for application switching, AirPlay video support for third-party applications, the revival of the hardware rotation lock, and personal hotspot.

There has been a lot of talk about these new gestures in iOS 4.3. Many believing that these new features obviate the need for the Home button. I, for one, agree with John Gruber:

I’m not saying these are bad gestures. But they’re like keyboard shortcuts on the Mac. For any command you expect normal people to actually find and use, there needs to be a visual way to find it. You can add a keyboard shortcut for expert users to memorize, but you can’t have only a keyboard shortcut. Same with these gestures.

No one would know that the five-finger home screen gesture existed unless they were told about it beforehand. And, I’m certain it would be quite frustrating if you forgot which gesture did what. Removing the Home button is the same type of thinking that lead to the sale of those labels for your keyboard that helped users remember what their function keys did in a specific application.

But, Jonathan Geller has been told by a source that Apple will be removing the Home button from the iPad and iPhone at some point in the future.

From Geller’s report on Boy Genius Report:

Apple employees are already testing iPads and iPhones with no home buttons on the Apple campus, and it’s possible we will see this new change materialize with the next-generation iPad and iPhone devices set to launch this year.

The most obvious problem with this is with one handed-operation. It’s not much of a problem on the iPad, most users probably use their iPad with both hands, but I use my iPhone with one hand more often then I do with two. How would you do a five-finger pinch with the same hand your holding the device with?

As much as we all like to talk about how much Steve Jobs hates buttons, he’s no dummy. The Home button isn’t going anywhere for a while. There would be too many problems arising from it’s removal. I’m not saying it’ll never happen but this year might be a bit too early for such a change.

Next is the addition of AirPlay support in third-party applications. Developers will be able to build AirPlay support into their apps and I’m incredibly excited about that. I have a feeling developers are going to bring AirPlay support to their applications rather quickly and AirPlay will turn into the Apple TV App Store we’ve been hoping for.

The new beta also bring back the hardware rotation lock for the iPad. If you were upset about Apple’s decision to change the switches functionality, iOS 4.3 will bring the ability to decide whether the switch is for mute or locking rotation.

Personal hotspot has been added to all iPhones in iOS 4.3. I haven’t installed 4.3 on my iPhone but if AT&T ever decides to give tethering away for free, I’ll get a lot of use out of the personal hotspot feature. My friends and family spend most weekends camping over the summer and it would be great if I could connect my iPad or MacBook to the internet through my iPhone for the periods of downtime at the campground.

But iOS 4.3 (just like every other iOS beta) has some hidden signs of devices and features to come, including the iPad 2 camera app, support for the OpenCL-capable SGX543 GPU, Find My Friends, camera effects, and identifiers for new iPhone and iPad models. The only one of these that intrigues me is Find My Friends, which would presumably be a Foursquare-like social network for iPhone users.

iOS 4.3 beta 1 is a pretty rock solid release. I’ve been using it all day and have only experienced one hiccup that occurred when I quickly jumped between applications with the four-finger swipe. Boy Genius Report has what they claim to be the iOS 4.3 beta 1 change log and the list of known issues is quite short. I have no knowledge of 4.3’s public release date, but I would venture to guess it’ll be in the next few weeks.