The update to the iPhone and iPod touch software, Apple iOS 4.1, arrived today, as promised by Sir Jobs-a-lot a mere week ago. To get the free update, simply connect your phone or iPod to iTunes on your computer using the USB cable. We've already taken the update for a test drive on our trusty iPhone 4 to see what the new version has to offer.
High dynamic range (HDR) photos
This feature helps to balance out the exposure of photos so that back-lit subjects, deep shadows and bright objects are all visible. It does this by taking three photos, each with various exposures, and sticking them together.
First, we tested the HDR feature by photographing supermodel Mary Lojkine against a brightly lit window. In the example below, the exposure of the outdoor scene was significantly better with HDR, showing far more detail. The model herself, however, remained underexposed.
In cases where our model was moving, the combination of photos didn't overlap perfectly. That meant blurry, overlaid images around the edges.
The iPhone's tap-to-focus feature is another handy way to control the exposure. Tap the area you want to focus on to ensure the camera takes its light reading from there. In our tests, tapping on the subject didn't improve the results of the HDR.
We tested landscape shots with photos taken from Blackfriars Bridge on a sunny day, but we weren't as impressed with HDR in this context. Images looked more exposed everywhere, rather than capturing detail in the sky and shadows of the pillar, as we'd hoped.
Overall, HDR is definitely a useful feature. We'll be using it for shots in bright sun when we don't have any control over the lighting conditions. Don't expect it to turn the iPhone into an SLR-killer, though. For a mobile phone, the iPhone 4's camera is better than most. If you don't like the HDR results, the phone saves both versions of the photo, so you can always stick with the original image if need be.
Game Center is all about socialising, throwing around essentially meaningless achievements and trash talking -- which is fine with us. But, like the so-far worthless Ping, your friends must also be on board in order to make it fun. Since there's no integration with Facebook, you have to find them over email.
We tested Game Center with our all-time favourite iPhone game, Flight Control, which already has online leaderboards and multi-player mode over Wi-Fi. Since these features are already in place, Game Center doesn't add much in the way of innovation. The so-called achievements, such as reading the game's help page, are unfulfilling and seemingly pointless.
That's not to say that Game Center doesn't have potential. Like most social networks, though, getting involved on the first day of its launch feels a bit like arriving at a party two hours early. It takes time to build a solid foundation of regular users.
There are a handful of good games, besides Flight Control, that support Game Center. Right now, it's not up to much, but we're keeping an open mind. It's worth trying, if only because it's free, and you can send trash-talking game requests to your mates -- once you find them.
Steve-o Jobs-o said that iOS 4.1 would allow us to rent TV shows from iTunes on our phones. During our trial, this feature was available only in the US store. We couldn't find any shows that were rentable in the UK store. We are in the midst of finding out from Apple if and when this will change, but in the meantime, let us know in the comments if the feature goes live for you.
We had more luck with uploading HD video straight to YouTube, which was effortless.
Apple iOS 4.1 is a useful update to the iPhone and iPod touch operating system -- especially if you experienced any of the bugs with the proximity sensor, iPhone 3G performance, or Bluetooth that Apple promises it will fix. HDR is a fun treat, but Game Center needs to be populated with games and friends before it's worthwhile.
All in all, iOS 4.1 offers a handful of features it seems Apple would have liked to have included in iOS 4, had they not run out of time. It won't change your life, but it's certainly handy to have, especially since it's free.
Edited by Emma Bayly