Apple's iOS 4.3 a welcome update for iPad, iPhone

A faster Safari, enhanced AirPlay, and security fixes make it a must-have

Apple's update for iOS 4, released Wednesday (two days earlier than expected ), offers a number of changes and new features for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch owners, plus 59 security patches for the mobile version of Safari.

For that last reason alone, you should install iOS 4.3. But there's more than just improved security in the latest upgrade: As expected AirPlay compatibility has been extended to additional apps, Safari now runs faster, iTunes Home Sharing is better integrated and personal hot spot support for the AT&T version of the iPhone has finally been rolled out.

Apple's iOS 4.3 is compatible with the iPhone 4 (the GSM model only), the iPhone 3GS, the third and fourth generations of the iPod Touch, and both the original iPad and the iPad 2 that's due on Friday. There's also a related AppleTV update for those who have the latest AppleTV, which was released last September. Not getting this update are the first- and second-generation iPhones, released in 2007 and 2008, and earlier versions of the iPod Touch.

In addition to the big changes offered in iOS 4.3, Apple tucked away several minor tweaks: the Camera app has a new shutter sound; the Notes app gets a few additional fonts; the Location Services setting is now prominently displayed under Settings; and Ping notifications are available.

Safari and AirPlay

For most users, the changes to Safari will be most obvious. Safari is now speedier, with Javascript performance twice as fast as before, according to Apple. In fact, that claim may be understated; Insanely Great Mac and others who have tested the new Safari found its Nitro Engine Javascript to be noticeably faster than Apple claimed.

Safari can also now stream specific H.264 videos to an AppleTV using AirPlay. But in an apparent effort to appease content creators, Web videos must be specifically tagged to allow the streaming: If Safari detects content that is not authorized, the video plays locally on the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch while the audio alone is transmitted via AirPlay. I'm not sure how many sites will allow this streaming to happen, but the feature works really well; it's nice to be able to beam content right to the TV without everyone crowding around my iPhone or iPad., for instance, has a preview of the movie Thor that you can surf to on your phone and then stream to Apple TV. You can do the same thing with the Apple-supplied video of the iPad 2 unveiling that took place March 2.

The changes to AirPlay mean you can finally stream photos, slide shows and movies stored in the Photos app wirelessly to Apple TV. Better yet, AirPlay capabilities are now available to third-party developers, meaning non-Apple apps like Pandora or Vevo could add this feature to their own apps. The implementation is much better than before, when only iPod and YouTube content could be streamed, but it still needs some work. I'll get to that in a moment.

Home sharing
To enable Home Sharing, you have to plug in your Apple ID and password on your iOS device.

Home Sharing and Apple TV

Users of iTunes with Home Sharing turned on can now access all of their content on their iOS devices. That's important because as digital media collections grow, the limited storage of the iPhone or iPad can become a hindrance. It's easy to set up: Just enter your iTunes Home Share username and password under Settings / iPod, tap the More icon in the iPod app itself, and tap Shared. From there, pick the iTunes library you wish to access (iTunes must be running on the host computer), and just like that, media from the cloud, your cloud, is available on your iOS device.

Reminder: You have to be on the same WI-Fi network as the Home Share to get access to your digital libraries.

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