We're back after updating to iPhone OS 2.1, and we're happy to report that the install process went well. Really well, actually. Now that we've had some time to play with the new features and fixes, we have some hands-on info and screenshots for you.
To our surprise, the iPhone OS 2.1 upgrade was fast, and after using Backup Disabler to switch on backups again, our first backup with 72 apps took "dramatically" less time than before, at just two minutes. Subsequent backups finish in mere seconds. Chalk that thorn in our side bug fix up as a win.
Overall, most of the things that Apple said should be faster are indeed faster. Installing apps is quicker than ever, and we don't see the traditional installation hang when the process is 95 percent completed. We haven't had a chance to put every one of our apps through extensive tests just yet, but games and other apps that frequently crashed before are performing much better so far.
iPod app rocks new features
Surprisingly, the iPod section of the iPhone has received the most attention from Apple, even though it wasn't really mentioned in the iPhone OS 2.1 release notes. Sure, Apple said the Genius had arrived, but the iPod app has received a number of other new features and tweaks.
One of the most appreciated iPod updates is the display of more information about each piece of media when browsing for music and videos. While browsing through a music playlist—or just about anything but an individual album's songs—the album and artist is displayed in smaller gray type below the name of each song.
This is a very unobtrusive way to make it much easier to know exactly what songs make up a playlist, and from which albums. In a Genius playlist, like the one shown above, a Genius icon is displayed alongside the first song used to create the playlist, as well as buttons for creating a different list, refreshing the current one, and saving it for keeps and syncing back to iTunes later.
To create a Genius playlist in the first place, simply tap on the album art when listening to any song to reveal a new Genius button. Just be sure to perform at least one sync with your main iTunes library, as iLounge reports that an initial sync is needed for some reason to get Genius up and running on the new software. To help differentiate them, Genius playlists are marked accordingly in a list of playlists on the iPhone with their staple atom icons.
After syncing Genius playlists to iTunes and making changes, such as extending the default length of 25 to 100, the change and its accompanying songs sync back to the iPhone.
Another nice touch in the iPod app is a subtle change to the blue dot indicator on new TV shows and podcast episodes. If a new episode has only partially been watched, the blue dot changes to being half full, indicating there's more to finish. We aren't sure how far into an episode one needs to get to wipe this icon entirely, but fast-forwarding a one-and-a-half hour podcast from 42 minutes to its last minute did the trick.
Oh yeah, the phone
Though we do actually use our iPhone to make calls from time to time, it's a little early to make a solid judgment either way on whether dropped calls and reliability have been improved. Limited testing of 3G signal strength and response time, however, shows that Apple has at least changed the signal strength display's interpretation of signal (the "improved accuracy" claim is something that is not easily testable without being an RF expert).
In one Chicago room of the Ars Orbiting HQ surrounded by brick, our iPhone 3G typically showed between one and two bars of 3G connectivity with iPhone OS 2.0.2, and experienced a noticeable lag when performing tasks like refreshing feeds in Google Reader mobile or checking for new e-mail. With iPhone OS 2.1, however, our iPhone 3G typically wavers between four and five bars of 3G signal in the same room, and the web feels ever so slightly more responsive, though that could be the software update placebo talking.
Considering how much we pound on the web with our iPhone 3G, though, we're pretty confident with our early assessment. Note, however, that the iPhone's 3G and EDGE icons have changed from white text on a square blue background to simply text written in blue. We aren't sure what's behind the alteration, and we haven't seen an indication that the icon is designed to change under different qualities of coverage (especially 3G coverage), but the new text-only icon does have the advantage of feeling a bit less attention-grabbing.
With over 600 contacts in our Address Book, we are also happy to report that opening, browsing, and searching contacts is much, much faster as well. Previously, opening contacts would result in at least a three-to-five second wait, and now we can immediately zip through our contacts almost as soon as the app finishes loading.
As far as the "2x alert for incoming text messages," it appears that iPhone OS 2.1 is simply hardwired to play the same notification for a new message five minutes later if you haven't read it yet. The audible alert goes off, but the display does not turn on again to preview the message. We can't find a preference to adjust this behavior in the Settings app, and while a second alert is a welcome change, it would be nice to have the option of extending repeated alerts further, or just indefinitely.
Coming out of beta
There are probably a number of other changes and tweaks that we haven't caught yet, but so far, we're pretty happy with iPhone OS 2.1 and the many, many bugs it appears to have exterminated. We'll need to take some more time to finish testing the battery and phone call reliability, but after our early experience with the new software, we're confident enough to tentatively remove the beta badge and say that the iPhone OS 2.0 may have finally arrived.Posted on