Apple issues iPhone OS 3.1 beta

Apple released the beta version of its iPhone OS 3.1 software, including enhancements to improve video, MMS and speech recognition features in the new iPhone 3G S. "iPhone SDK 3.1 beta and iPhone OS 3.1 beta are now posted to the iPhone Dev Center," reads an email sent from Apple. "These versions are for development and testing only and should be installed on devices dedicated to iPhone OS 3.1 beta software development. Please read the iPhone OS Pre-Install Advisory and the iPhone SDK 3.1 beta release notes before downloading and installing." Because of Apple's NDA policies, official details on the beta update are scarce, but Ars Technica reports that 3.1 updates the AT&T profile to support MMS, and also expands Voice Control to operate over Bluetooth. In addition, the update boasts improvements to OpenGL and Quartz, and enhances video editing tools.  

New patent applications filed last week by Apple indicate future editions of the iPhone could feature a touchscreen enhanced by haptics feedback technology as well as fingerprint identification safeguards. United States Patent Application 20090167704 describes "systems, methods, computer-readable media, and other means for utilizing touch-based input components that provide localized haptic feedback to a user... The touch-based input components can use, for example, a grid of piezoelectric actuators to provide vibrational feedback to a user, while the user scrolls around a click wheel, slides across a trackpad, or touches a multi-touch display screen."

The patent application also includes a surprisingly honest admission about the existing iPhone's limitations: "One of a touchscreen's biggest advantages (i.e., the ability to utilize the same physical space for different functions) is also one of a touchscreen's biggest disadvantages. When the user is unable to view the display (because the user is occupied with other tasks), the user can only feel the smooth, hard surface of the touchscreen, regardless of the shape, size and location of the virtual buttons and/or other display elements. This makes it difficult for users to find icons, hyperlinks, textboxes, or other user-selectable input elements that are being displayed, if any are even being displayed, without looking at the display. But, in some instances, it may be inconvenient, or even dangerous, for the user to look at the display. Unless touch input components are improved, users that, for example, drive a motor vehicle, may avoid devices that have a touch input component and favor those that have a plurality of physical input components (e.g., buttons, wheels, etc.). The present invention improves on nearly all kinds of touch input components that are used in conjunction with a display screen."

United States Patent Application 20090169070 outlines "systems and methods for controlling an electronic device by detecting and using a person's fingerprints. A device can store user input signatures, including fingerprint signatures. The user input signatures can, in turn, be associated with user-selectable commands. When a user provides user input (including fingerprints) to the electronic device that matches one of the stored user input signatures, the device can initiate the associated user-selectable command." Apple adds "In comparison with a conventional device that requires a user to initiate user-selectable commands by manipulating a button or dial, the present invention can reduce and, in some embodiments, eliminate the need for a user to look at a device's user interface in order to interact with and control the device. Furthermore, the present invention can reduce the size of an electronic device by replacing a plurality of conventional user input mechanisms (e.g., buttons and/or dials) with a fewer number of fingerprint sensors."

 For more on iPhone OS 3.1:
- read this Ars Technica article

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