Apple seeds iOS 4.3 Gold Master as iPad 2 looms

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) issued the final Gold Master edition of its iOS 4.3 operating system update in conjunction with the introduction of its much-anticipated iPad 2 tablet. The iOS update--available for download from the iOS Dev Center--is optimized for the iPad, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS, and third- and fourth-generation editions of the iPod touch. According to Apple, iOS 4.3 promises improved Safari performance alongside a host of new features and functions--with the update's release, the computing giant will migrate its Nitro JavaScript engine from the desktop edition of Safari 5.0 to Safari for iOS devices, stating devices like the iPhone and iPad will now run JavaScript up to two times faster than in the current 4.2 iteration.

The March 11 consumer launch of iOS 4.3 (coinciding with the retail release of iPad 2) heralds iTunes Home Sharing, enabling consumers to stream media from one device's iTunes library to another. Also new in iOS 4.3: iPad support for Apple's FaceTime video chat solution and Photo Booth imaging application, as well as expanded AirPlay support giving consumers the latitude to stream video recorded via iPhone or iPad directly to the Apple TV service.

Apple will partner with AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) to market the iPad 2 in the U.S., touting versions of the tablet expressly optimized for each operator's network. The new iPad also features a dual-core A5 processor, delivering nine times the graphics performance of the original unit; the device promises 10 hours of battery life, front-facing and rear-facing cameras and a gyroscope.

Apple has sold 14.8 million iPads since first launching the device in April 2010. At a media event last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs (returning briefly from his current medical leave) also stated that the computing giant has now shipped 100 million iPhone units.

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