Earlier today, Apple made the iOS 4.3 available to its customers via iTunes, two days ahead of its previously announced March 11th release date.

iOS 4.3 is the release that will ship with the iPad 2, but it will also work with the iPhone 3GS, the AT&T iPhone 4, the third- and fourth-gen iPod touch, and the original iPad. If Apple sticks to its normal summer release schedule for new iOS versions, 4.3 will likely be the last major revision to iOS 4 before iOS 5 comes down the pike.

With this update, Apple has pulled the plug on iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod Touch users – rather than giving them a version of the 4.3 release stripped of its more performance-intensive features, the company has simply declined to issue iOS 4.3 for these devices at all. Also missing from the support list is the Verizon iPhone, though I suspect that this will be rectified through either a separate iOS 4.3 build or perhaps a 4.3.x build at some point in the near future.

The end of support for older devices isn’t exactly surprising, though I do wish that Apple had at least waited until iOS 5 to completely drop support for the slower hardware – Apple was selling new second-gen iPod Touches as recently as September 2010, and it continues to sell them refurbished as of this writing. All things must pass, but to cut off such recent customers seems a bit harsh. Still, Apple’s willingness to be the bad guy in this instance does help to prevent the hardware and software fragmentation endemic to the Android platform.

Older hardware aside, this article will focus mostly on what iOS 4.3 brings to users of existing devices. This is partly because the iPhone 3GS and first-generation iPad are what I’ve got to play with, and partly because most of the iPad 2-exclusive features relate to FaceTime, which by now is a thoroughly known quantity for iOS users.

A major component of the update is improved JavaScript rendering speed, courtesy of the same Nitro engine found in the desktop version of Safari. Apple says the new engine is about twice as fast as the old one, but is it true?

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9

Sunspider isn’t everthing, but as a standard benchmark it’s a useful tool for measuring relative performance - relative to iOS 4.2.1, iOS 4.3 is actually a bit more than twice as fast at running JavaScript.

This is a welcome and impressive improvement, especially for those of us who aren’t using Apple’s latest and greatest. The Motorola Xoom is included for comparison, and while JavaScript performance isn’t quite as good on the original iPad, iOS 4.3 does a lot to close the gap, especially given the iPad’s older internals.

In practice, I wouldn’t say there’s a night-and-day difference, but pages seem to load with a bit more pep. No, it’s not a scientific analysis, but you can rest easy knowing that iOS 4.3 isn’t going to slow your device down while you’re on the Web. 

Personal Hotspot and Home Sharing
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  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - link

    Lack of iOS 4.3 support for older devices makes sense given that it doesn't seem that most of the new features of iOS 4.3 would run on older devices anyways. Personal Hotspot only supports the iPhone 4, not even the iPhone 3G S probably due to processor cycle and RAM consumption concerns. Airplay isn't supported on the iPhone 3G even is iOS 4.2. And lack of Airplay support would likely make iTunes Home Sharing untenable too.

    The most obvious benefit for 2nd gen devices in iOS 4.3 would be the faster Safari browser, but that actually wouldn't work either. The new faster Nitro Javascript engine is faster because it uses Just In TIme compilation to spit out optimized machine code. In this case the machine code is for the ARM v7 architecture for 3rd gen devices. Supporting 2nd gen devices would requiring writing another new and separate Nitro engine for the ARM v6 architecture, which while nice would be a dead end effort since I don't think anyone expected 2nd gen device support in iOS 5.

    So in the end, with no new features in iOS 4.3 coming to 2nd gen devices, it makes sense that iOS 4.3 isn't available for 2nd gen devices. And it's not like there is competitive pressure from other OEMs who still support their ARM11 devices with the latest OS version.

    However, I was expecting an iOS 4.2.2 to just bring iOS 4.3's security updates over to 2nd gen devices. As pointed out, 2nd gen devices were sold until September 2010 and it's reasonable to expect at least continued security support. That is a disappointment.
  • Guspaz - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Except for one problem: Nitro, AKA SquirrelFish Extreme, already supports ARMv6. It supports the following CPU architectures:

    X86 - 32-bit Intel (for example, Windows, or Mac OS X versions Leopard or earlier)
    X86_64 - 64-bit Intel (for example Mac OS X SnowLeopard or many Linux distributions)
    ARM_TRADITIONAL - traditional ARM instruction set, works on ARM v4 or newer
    ARM_THUMB2 - ARM thumb2 instruction set, works on ARM v7 or newer

    So... there isn't really any excuse. Yeah, it might not provide quite as big an advantage, but since they're still *SELLING* ARMv6 devices officially (see refurb iPod Touch 2nd gen, which was even sold new as recently as 7 months ago), there's really no reason not to support it.

    Consider this: with all the complaints about iOS 4 performance on these devices (which they kept selling long after iOS 4 came out), the new javascript engine would have been a decent thing to help resolve that.
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I haven't been tracking SquirrelFish development since the original announcement which included those 4 architectures. But has all four architectures kept being developed in sync? Presumably not otherwise Apple wouldn't have waited until now to introduce Nitro/SquirrelFish to iOS when it was available in OS X in 2008. If it's taken Apple nearly 3 years to get Nitro in a shippable state for ARMv7, that wouldn't bode well for the additional effort needed to get ARMv6 up to speed if extra work is necessary.
  • dsumanik - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Not quite... wifi hotspot works just fine on my jailbroken 3GS using mywi... With no 3 user limit....and has for over a year now... Even before iphone4 was released... There is absolutely no reason to block this feature except to force an upgrade.

    The 3G could handle it easy as well.

    If you own an older device and it bothers you apple didn't bring you this feature...

    Please jailbreak.

    It's simple fast and easy

    And oh yeah guess what.... you don't have ti pay fir arediculous data plan to use it either.... It just works.

    Yet another idea the jailbreak community implemented that apple copies and then deliberately limits in order to make a profit (handset upgrade an data plan requirement)

    If apple ever finds a way to permanently block jailbreakers I'm switching to android, iOS in it's stock form is very frustrating... You can't even use your phOne as a USB device unless you have iTunes and some sort of app installed lol
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Not even 3GS because of CPU and RAM concerns?

    No. I have an HTC Magic 32B (yes, the shit one with 192MB RAM, and only a 528MHz ARM9, not a 600 Cortex A8 and 256MB like the 3GS) that can do wireless tethering after root, and have done successfully to at least two machines at once. Does get hot, though.
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    ARM11, sorry.
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    The iPhone 3GS can already do basic 3G tethering via Bluetooth or USB since iOS 3.0 (iOS 4.0 for AT&T). By not supporting Personal Hotspot the iPhone 3GS is limited to sharing the 3G connection with 1 device compared to 5 for the iPhone 4.

    Besides, if you are comparing to a rooted Android phone, I'm sure it won't take long for people to find and easy way enable Personal Hotspot on jailbroken iPhone 3GS.
  • fogpuppy - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    It already exists. It's called MyWi. The best wifi hotspot for jailbroken iPhones ....
  • MobiusStrip - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    There are plenty of software-design defects that should never have made it out the door on the first iPhone, never mind remaining on two generations of phones for four years. Topping the list would be the lack of continuing periodic AUDIBLE alerts for missed calls and voicemails.

    What special kind of stupidity leads to a phone that chirps once, immediately after you miss a call, and then never again? Let's say your phone's charging on your dresser while you're taking a shower, and you miss a call. You get out of the shower and spend 10 minutes right next to it, and it never makes a peep. The next day you go to use your phone and find out your friends called you for happy hour. MORONIC. There are plenty of scenarios just like this, which lead to you missing time with friends and family because in 2011, Apple's handheld Unix computers are too stupid to tell you that you missed a call.

    I have a 1980s microwave that beeps periodically if I forget to take the food out. My 1990s StarTAC audibly told me that I missed a call 20 minutes ago. WTF, Apple?
  • strikeback03 - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    I have no idea if my current Android phone will give repeated audio alerts, but I know my previous Windows Mobile phone did not without a third party program. Both do have notification lights, so as long as you look at them occasionally you would see the notification. This does seem to be somewhat widespread for smartphones though.

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