Apple's iOS 7 proves it's a Wi-Fi world

editor's corner

One need only look at features included in the souped-up iOS 7 announced at Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Worldwide Developers Conference to see that Wi-Fi has truly become the cellular industry's BFF.

The newest version of Apple's iPhone mobile operating system will be included in the next iPhone--rumored to be called the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6--which will be released in the fall.

One of the major Wi-Fi-related additions to the latest iOS is support for the Hotspot 2.0 standard, which should make it easier for iOS devices to connect to certified and secure W-Fi hotspots. Inclusion of this technology in the high-profile iPhone will go a long way toward unifying mobile industry backing for this approach to seamless cellular-to-Wi-Fi offloading.

Another significant feature some expect to see in the upcoming iPhone is support for the next-generation Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, which should help drive 802.11ac adoption in Wi-Fi network routers. Apple said Monday that it is including support for 802.11ac in its new AirPort Extreme base station, Time Capsule and MacBook Air laptops, and Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi told Computerworld the next-generation iPhone will likely support 802.11ac as well.

ZyXEL Communications applauded Apple's addition of 802.11ac to some of its products, saying urban dwellers trying to use congested 2.4 GHz spectrum will welcome 802.11ac, which uses 5 GHz spectrum. "Additionally, 11ac support is ideal for graphics and video professionals who can take advantage of the increased bandwidth to improve productivity by reducing downtime while transferring multimedia files," the company added.

802.11ac support could come in handy for gaming as well when using another new iOS 7 feature, AirDrop, which employs peer-to-peer Wi-Fi or Bluetooth as a conduit for discovering other nearby Apple devices and remotely sharing files--including photos, videos and contacts. AirDrop first appeared in the Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, according to Apple Insider.

Though Apple included AirDrop in iOS 7, it did not include near-field communications (NFC). "During the Monday keynote, Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, took a dig at Samsung's NFC capabilities, saying there will be 'no need to wander around the room bumping your phone with others,'" PC Mag wrote.

Further, Apple is adding a new FaceTime Audio feature to iOS 7, which enables native VoIP. This can be used over a cellular data plan if a carrier allows it, but, more importantly, it can be used over Wi-Fi. "The FaceTime button is right there, a click away from each contact on your phone. FaceTime Audio doesn't require downloading a separate app, nor does it require finding other people you want to call from those apps. You just have to go to your contacts, and your iPhone will determine whether your contact also has FaceTime Audio," said The Atlantic Wire.

Also among the numerous new iOS features is automatic updating, which drew an approving tweet from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who complained last month during a Senate hearing on Apple's tax practices that he was frustrated at having to manually update his iPhone's apps. The automatic updating feature will leverage strong cellular or Wi-Fi connections for quick downloads of app updates.

And iOS 7 finally enables users to toggle Wi-Fi on and off without having to dive into the device's settings panel.

But not all of the iPhone Wi-Fi news this week related to iOS 7. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) said it is bringing its Enhanced Push-to-Talk service to business customers through a new app available for Apple's iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S, boasting that this will be the first time a U.S. carrier is offering PTT capabilities on the iPhone. In addition to the app, AT&T said its Enhanced PTT service can now be used over Wi-Fi, including more than 32,000 AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots.

Taking a look at the growing use of Wi-Fi in smartphones of any ilk and the list of new iOS 7 features with Wi-Fi forces one to recognize just how crucial the 802.11 family of standards and its offshoots have become to the mobile industry. It's probably an understatement to say that the modern cell phone is increasingly the Wi-Fi phone.--Tammy

P.S. Remember to vote in this week's poll. What do you think is the most important Wi-Fi related feature in iOS 7?