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Apple iOS 4.1 and 4.2 - it's all in the timing

Apple iOS 4.1 and 4.2 - it's all in the timing

The announcement of iOS 4.1 and 4.2 yesterday didn’t garner all the big headlines. That was left to Apple’s non-mobile efforts and its new social network, Ping. But the changes to the iPhone’s operating system come at a critical time for Cupertino, and the timing of the release of both couldn’t be more crucial.

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As the numbering suggests, iOS 4.1 will be the first update to hit Apple’s best-selling blower, landing next week. With it, the improved OS brings some much-needed bug fixes, including tweaks to make it run properly on the iPhone 3G and sort issues with the proximity sensor. But it’s the additions that are big news. There’s HDR photos, which pull together overexposed and underexposed shots to make your pictures look more defined. Plus you’ll get TV rentals and the chance to upload HD clips over Wi-Fi.

But the big deal is Game Centre. This new multiplayer gaming service lets players using the iPhone and iPod touch take on friends and all-comers at the latest titles, show off achievements and brag about just how good they are at the newest games. Epic Games’ demo showed this in full effect and it looks fantastic.

But there’s an obvious comparison: Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone 7. iOS 4.1 has Microsoft’s new mobile operating system in mind and Apple has looked to gazump the Big M by making Game Centre available a month or so ahead of the first Windows Phone 7 blowers. It’s a clever move, especially with Jobs’ (spurious) claims that the iPod touch is now the world’s best-selling handheld console.

They can be debated, but there’s no denying that iOS gaming is enjoying a golden moment and that Game Centre is aiming to stymy WinPhone 7 before it even lands. If iOS 4.1 is aimed at seeing off Microsoft, then iOS 4.2 is all about taking on Android. Gingerbread is due out next month, with iOS 4.2 to follow in November. Apple knows the next Android update will be huge, potentially game-changing, and while it only fully changes its OS annually, iOS 4.2 is all about getting under Google’s skin.

The update is all about the iPad, bringing multitasking and all the iOS 4 features from the iPhone to the slate. There’s wireless printing and threaded email too. Apple is well aware that Google’s new tablets are about to start rolling out as well, but with Android 2.2, not 3.0. Getting the announcement of iOS 4.2 out in the open now shows it wants to build hype, and it will clearly succeed. Hype is what Apple does better than any other consumer tech company, after all.

These updates may not be revolutionary, but they do give the iPhone and iPad a nice boost ahead of the busy Christmas period. Apple will sell stacks, but the rivalry between it and Google and Microsoft is now so close in the mobile space that not releasing these updates would have left it trailing. It all points to more amazing updates from all three of those players in the near future and, ultimately, even better phones and tablets for us tech heads.

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