updated 10:05 pm EDT, Tue May 18, 2010
iPhone 4 beta 4 points to ATT for tether option
Apple tonight posted iPhone 4.0 beta 4 to the Developer Center with a strong clue that AT&T will finally enable data tethering. The new test release not only enables a "set up tethering" preference for American users but, when the menu is tapped, asks users to either call AT&T or to visit the carrier's website to turn the feature on. That it isn't automatically enabled suggests AT&T will charge an extra fee; for other smartphones, it normally charges an extra $30 per month.
The addition would put an end to a year-long delay for the feature, which was promised when the iPhone 3GS was unveiled last June but has been repeatedly set back. AT&T has often cited a desire for improved network performance before it switched on the feature, which could tax its already strained 3G network by letting subscribers share a cellular connection with demanding desktop-level apps. Many international carriers have had the feature active since the iPhone 3GS debut; one of the most advanced has been Canada, where all three major carriers have not only built tethering into service but give it away for free with the data plan.
If it reaches the final iPhone 4.0 build, tethering would keep the US iPhone current with Android, which will get built-in tethering with Android 2.2. Both Google's platform and the Palm webOS phones at Verizon also have the option of turning the phone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, however.
Most other changes are minor but include a new default home screen layout that puts the calculator, clock and other minor apps into a Utilities folder. Several new wallpapers have been added that focus on reducing visual clutter, and Google Maps is now more responsive than it has been in the past. Previous beta bugs like brief pauses appear to have been addressed.
The changes all point to Apple nearing the end of development for the OS as it's focusing mostly on cosmetic issues over core technical problems. If Apple follows its traditional route, it should release the finished version of iPhone 4.0 shortly before new iPhone hardware ships, which is unofficially anticipated for late June. [via Gizmodo]