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iOS 4.3 adds Wi-Fi hotspot capability, boosts Safari performance

iOS 4.3Along with a slimmer, faster iPad 2, Apple used Wednesday press event in San Francisco to launch a long-awaited iOS 4.3 update. The firmware upgrade will introduce personal Wi-Fi hotspot capability, AirPlay enhancements, better Java performance in Safari, and more.

Personal hotspot capability will allow iPhone 4 users to share a 3G connection with other devices via Wi-Fi, matching a long-standing ability of Google’s Android. It will support up to five devices at once: three Wi-Fi, one Bluetooth and one USB. Of course, Apple (and carriers) haven’t yet announced what it will cost users for the privilege.

Along the same Web-surfing lines, Apple has tuned up Safari with its Nitro JavaScript engine, a feature the company has touted on the desktop version of the browser for years. Apple claims it will double the speed of JavaScript execution, which should help speed up browsing on sophisticated sites that make heavy use of JavaScript.

iPad 2 facetimeMedia sharing between iPhones, iPad and other devices will also become easier with improvements to AirPlay and iTunes sharing. The AirPlay update will allow users to stream data from third-party apps and websites, allowing an Apple TV to play music from say, an iPhone 4 running the Slacker app. Apple TV will also play previews from iTunes and videos from the Photos app, and photo slideshows on the device will get the benefit of new slideshow transition effects.

Home media sharing features will allow music and video to seamlessly stream back and forth between iOS devices when they’re connected via Wi-Fi, playing music stored on an iPod Touch, for instance, from a nearby iPad.

Finally, for iPad users, iOS 4.3 will allow the lock switch to function as a mute button, and introduce FaceTime support for use with the front- and rear-facing cameras in the iPad 2. Besides basic video chat capabilities, users will be able to add effects to video on the fly, like simulated infrared vision and distortion.

Apple will launch the iOS 4.3 update on March 11, the same day the iPad 2 ships, for free. It will run on the iPhone 3GS and 4, iPad and iPad 2, and third- and fourth-generation iPod Touch devices.

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