iOS is the OS, or “operating system,” that powers iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches. And while the iPad won’t see an iOS upgrade until version 4.2 later this year — and the first-generation iPhone and iPod Touch from 2007 aren’t powerful enough to run this new version — iOS 4.1 introduces a ton of new features, including HD video rentals and improved photo quality.
Those aren’t the biggest features of iOS 4.1, though … or its biggest downsides. Let’s take a look at the highlights of the new features first:
Accessibility Features of iOS 4.1
Just like in “real life,” accessibility in the computer world means giving disabled people access to things that abled people can use. The biggest new feature in this area is that blind or visually impaired users can now navigate iOS 4.1 using an external keyboard, instead of a glass screen with little or no tactile feedback.
Also in the department of improving people’s access to iOS 4.1, there have been tons of performance upgrades, allowing iPhone 3G and older (not first-gen) iPod Touch users to finally use iOS without as much slowdown. There’s also a new virtual keyboard layout in Cherokee, which I personally find neat.
Social Networking Features of iOS 4.1
Everyone’s Buzz-ing about the new social networks introduced in iOS 4.1, called Ping and Game Center. Ping looks sort of like Facebook for music, letting you “follow” artists and fellow listeners and update with songs that you listen to. Meanwhile, Game Center’s sort of like Steam or XBox Live, with features like achievements and friends lists, plus enhanced multiplayer.
Click on “Buzz” at the start of that last paragraph, though, and you’ll see where the trouble begins. In an article I wrote called “You’re Not Allowed to Stop Using Facebook,” I showed the downside of using Facebook: You can’t leave it without leaving all of your friends. So new competing social networks have trouble getting traction, because even if you personally like them better, you can’t choose them instead of Facebook — you have to stay on Facebook at the same time, or you miss out.
The solution that Google used with their Buzz social network is the same one that Apple is using for Ping and Game Center … tie it in with things that you’re already using. In Buzz’s case, it was forced on users of GMail; and while Apple is being less obnoxious about it, they’re trying to get iTunes users and iOS gamers to start using both Ping and Game Center.
The Problem With iOS 4.1’s New Features
So what’s the problem with this? The problem is that just like you’re not allowed to stop using Facebook, you won’t be allowed to stop using Ping or Game Center either! Even if someone else makes something better, you won’t get to choose to switch over unless you want to lose everything else. And when you consider that iOS itself is like that — it only comes on Apple products, and if you switch to a non-Apple phone you lose all your apps — that makes their new accessibility features seem almost sinister. It’s good that the blind and the visually impaired have an easier time of using iOS now, but it’s especially good for Apple, because they now have a new, captive audience.
So what’s the solution? I’m not sure, but I do know that if I switch to a different Android phone I’ll still have the apps I bought for my HTC Aria. There are social networks that work like that too, like Dreamwidth, Identi.ca, and the “Facebook replacement” Diaspora; and while they may not be ready for your needs yet, it might be good to keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to be locked into things.
Even considering its disturbing downsides, iOS 4.1 is very shiny. And if you’re already using an iPhone or iPod Touch you owe it to yourself to get the update by syncing with iTunes … especially if you’re blind or visually impaired, or you’re on an older iPod Touch or an iPhone 3G.
What do you think of iOS 4.1? Have you tried it out? Scroll down and leave a comment! And whatever phone and social networks you use, I hope you have fun with them.