On Tuesday night, Apple released to developers the fourth beta of the upcoming iPhone 4.0 OS. Developers with access to the program started reporting on the various new features they found, most notably, AT&T tethering.
Tethering is a function that lets users hook up their mobile phones and use them as modems in order to share internet connectivity with other devices over a USB or Wi-Fi connection. The iPhone received this feature last summer, with the release of iPhone OS 3.0., but AT&T has not enabled the feature for its U.S. users. Concerns are that it would overwhelm the carrier's network.
Customers, however, may not have to wait much longer for the feature. A configuration message for Internet tethering in the latest iPhone 4.0 beta has been spotted. The page informs AT&T customers that they need to contact the carrier or go on its Web site to activate the feature.
The popup message is believed to be a strong indication that AT&T is about to enable iPhone tethering. Some industry observers agree. "AT&T is more confident now in the investments they've made in the past six months to handle tethering for iPhones," so it will definitely be offered in the next release, said Chris Hazelton, research director, mobile and wireless, at The 451 Group.
When the iPhone OS 4.0 is released for general availability, "you'll see a pricing plan of at least $20 per month for a person to enable tethering on their account," he said. Pricing the feature limits demand so the carrier won't see as large an impact on the network, nor as much hacking, Hazelton said.
Other changes developers found to the latest iPhone OS 4.0 beta include a default folder for utility apps (clock, calculator, compass, and voice memo), new wallpaper images, group messaging options and an orientation lock for the Camera Roll. The previous beta of iPhone OS 4.0 also revealed orientation lock capability and basic iPod controls in the springboard.
In April Apple CEO Steve Jobs demoed some other significant iPhone OS 4.0 features coming this summer, such as multitasking, folders, a game center, and an iBooks app. Apple's site says iPhone OS 4 will include over 100 new user features for iPhone and iPod touch, along with a new software development kit offering over 1,500 new APIs for developers to use to create apps.
iPhone OS 4 is scheduled to ship this summer for the iPhone and iPod touch and in the fall for the iPad.