iPhone 2.1 (build 5F136) is an incremental point update to the much larger and more encompassing iPhone 2.0 software release we reviewed back in early July. Light on new functionality, it focuses instead on bug fixes, which given the many problems that accompanied the massive 2.0 rollout, is a Very Good Thing.
Like 2.0, this update is also available for the iPod Touch, but unlike its predecessor, the 2.1 update is FREE (if you already have 2.0 -- if you have 1.x, you'll still have to pony up the $10 premium.)
So, 4 betas, dropped features, somethings new, somethings fixed -- is iPhone 2.x Apple's Vista? Or is it finally the next generation firmware we've all been waiting for? Find out, after the break!
iPod Touch 2.1 debuted September 9, with iPhone 2.1 following on September 12. Apple, given their usual mono-syllabic release notes, was positively chatty this time:
iPhone version 2.1 contains many bug fixes and improvements, including the following:
- decrease in call set-up failures and call drops
- significantly improved battery life for most users
- dramatically reduced time to backup to iTunes
- improved email reliability, notably fetching email from POP and Exchange accounts
- faster installation of 3rd party applications
- fixed bugs causing hangs and crashes if you have lots of 3rd party applications
- improved performance in text messaging
- faster loading and searching of contacts
- improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display
- repeat alert up to two additional times for incoming text messages
- option to wipe data after ten failed passcode attempts
- Genius playlist creation
Fixed Things First
An email, purportedly from Steve Jobs, suggested only 2% of users were suffering from firmware related problems. Tell that to the comments, forums, and blogs! We here at TiPb have covered the various 2.0.x glitches extensively already, including 3G network issues, App crashes, and painfully long backup cycles.
Although a few new issues have arisen, including a bug in iPod Touch WiFi dealing with WAP authentication, and with MobileMe and Exchange Push services draining battery life for some users, Apple seems to have taken positive steps towards stability with 2.1. 3G signals report as stronger. Apps don't crash quite as often. And backups are considerably faster. Oh, yeah. Apple also fixed that little security snafu -- again -- that allowed access to a otherwise locked iPhone data.
No doubt a 2.1.1 (already on shipping versions of the iPod Touch) or 2.1.2 is in the pipeline to further tweak things, but 2.1 itself is already a major improvement over 2.0. Who are we kidding? In the stability areas, 2.1 is what 2.0 should have been.
What Hasn't Changed
Most everything. But as we said, this release ended up being less about features and more about fixing the persistent embarrassment that 2.0.x had become for Apple. (Threatening a Vista-like hit to its public perception -- perpetually viewed as flawed no matter how solid it became).
For the vast majority of built-in applications, including Calendar, YouTube, Stocks, Maps, Weather, Clock, Calculator, Notes, iTunes WiFi Music Store, Phone, Mail, and Safari, while performance (scrolling, transitioning, etc.) has improved (and thank Jobs for that -- especially in Contacts!), functionality is pretty much the same.
Alas, while typing on the virtual keyboard might also have improved, we've still encountered the dreaded lag at times, especially with SMS. A few Apps (like Safari or Mail) can still take their sweet time to load. Since these are multi-tasking Apps, a Force Quit can sometimes help, but it does make us wonder if something is going on under the covers -- the same thing that keeps Apple so determined to keep multi-tasking off-limits to the App Store?
Minor cosmetics: 3G and Edge have both gotten slightly tweaked, more low-key icons. No particular reason that we can tell. Maybe Jonathan Ive had 30 seconds to spare?(opens in new tab)
The screen shot function (press Home and Sleep at the same time) now not only flashes white on activation, but now also makes an audible camera shutter sound, same as taking a picture. Our 2.0 iPhones don't do that, so it seems to be new to 2.1..
I haven't noticed this personally yet (maybe because I'm not a heavy texter), but reader Mr HiDefinition wrote in to tell us:(opens in new tab)
(Screen shot courtesy of Chad)
In addition, as mentioned above, Apple now claims you will receive repeated alerts for SMS messages -- but we've likewise not seen this ourselves yet.
Useful stuff for those who live on SMS.
Because Setting is so huge, it almost always gets some update or another, and 2.1 is no different. According to Macworld, Settings - General - Restrictions now allow you to turn off the Camera app as well. Probably not enough for secure locations who won't allow any device with a physical camera on site, but useable for parents.
Speaking of security, Apple has also added to Settings - General - Passcode Lock, allowing users to now toggle on Erase Data. This will, after 10 failed attempts at entering the unlock PIN, securely delete every byte on the iPhone. We're still not sure if this is the military grade, multi-pass pseudo-random data overwrite type of secure erase, but we're hoping it is... One note of caution: avoid this option if you have kids who might discover your iPhone and decide its fun to start randomly typing digits into the boxes...(opens in new tab)
cddiazz2010 let us know that, when installing an App straight onto your iPhone (a precarious undertaking on 2.x, as it pretty much ensured crashes and long backups, but rock solid for me so far with 2.1), you can now tap on the icon to pause the installation, and tap again to continue. Very nice, and could prove very useful.
Terry comments below that App icons will also stay in place now when updated, no longer jumping back to the last open slot. Good catch Terry, and good fix Apple!
Thanks to iTunes 8, iPod received what was possibly the biggest feature boost in 2.1. We've already covered how to create on-the-fly, and on-device Genius Playlists, which is the most obvious update...(opens in new tab)
...But Apple has snuck in a few other gems as well.
When the iTunes Remote App debuted alongside the App Store, many found it to be superior in some ways to the built-in iPod App. Apple seems to have listened, and added the improved music listings, which show album and artist underneath track names.
Podcasts get similar treatment, with not only date added, but length and length remaining if you're only part of the way through. TV Shows give total time, as do movies.
Sadly, they didn't add one of our favorite features -- search. The more storage, the harder it is to find stuff. Apple needs to more seriously integrate this base functionality throughout the iPhone.
On the tweak side, Apple has added a new state to the small blue dot icon that used to simply distinguish "new" from "not new" for other media like podcasts and TV shows. Now, a half-blue dot indicates "partially new" (i.e., you've started but not yet finished watching or listening to it).(opens in new tab)
In terms of behavior, I noticed that since 2.1, when a podcast completes playing, the iPod App will immediately begin playing the next oldest podcast in the same series. I don't remember seeing this in earlier firmware, and next newest would seem more logical.
Lastly, word is 2.1 now supports a triple-click on Apple's wired earbuds and in-ear earphones to skip backwards one track. I'd imagine (and hope), it would also support the volume rocker on the newest versions of those earphones as well.
Sure. No cut/copy/paste, no turn-by-turn, no MMS, no video recording, no ubiquitous landscape keyboard, and the list goes on and on. But this wasn't 3.0 on 3rd gen hardware. This was, all jokes aside, the real release version of 2.x. The proper gold master we should have gotten back in July. And taken at that, it's a very important, and much appreciated update.
Not perfect yet by any means, but a much needed step in that general direction.
Should you update to 2.1? Now that the iPhone DevTeam has again worked their jailbreaking wonders, there's no reason for anyone to shy away. It's free, it's functional, and its fixed. Go grab it, and drop by the forums to let us know how it's treating you!
And if you notice anything else we may have missed, please let us know! (And if you're still having issues post 2.1, Jeremy wants to make sure you hit Apple's iPhone Feedback (opens in new tab) page and let them know!)
Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
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My reception has been better with 2.1 as well.
I believe though that a 2.1.x will come out at some point and again a larger update of 2.2 as well. Apple wants to always fix their problems and not have a vista style breakdown.
Also applications stay where they are after you do an update, this is a big plus for me. I was getting tired of having to move an application back to where it was after an update.
We tested on 3 iPhones running 2.0.2, both 3G and 2G, and none produced the sound. All did on 2.1. Anyone else?
Good tip on the icons staying put, thanks and added!
2.1 has literally changed my iPhone stable/Speed experience back to the first gen days... I LOVE IT.
I have not crashed once, Apps feel faster, They for sure Load and install faster... I LOVE THAT...
I Do around 3,000 texts a month.. SMS is indeed faster, i noticed it right away with my first text that i started typing.
My signal is better..
Batter life..- WOW... can i say WOW?!?!
Sat morning i unplugged my iPhone, drove out to my girlfriends house and stayed over the weekend. DIdn't get home until late sunday. I had used my phone for googlemaps.. played some Spore even listened to music while driving. By the time i got back on sunday I was at 60% battery life.
That's over 24 hours... and i didn't even feel like charging the thing...
All in all.. amazing update Apple... amazing. Keep them coming!
~To all the people who keep mentioning things like New features and copy and paste etc etc... have some patience.. this stability fix was much needed before anything else. I'm thankful apple is doing things based on priorities...
I use a motorola handsfree car speaker and don't have any echo, or problem with it at all. Could you elaborate on what you're experiencing?
And John, I've had zero issues with bluetooth and echos.
Many of us have let Apple know about the problem and noone that I know of has received a response.
Oh, and for those who care, I used QuickPwn and it Jailbroke v2.1 flawlessly. For me, Jailbreaking is essential to install Wiki2Touch, the incredible offline Wikipedia application. Upgrading to v2.1 and Jailbreaking left my 4GB (yes, 4 gigabytes) of Wiki2Touch data intact and ready to use!
While we criticize them for seemingly obvious stuff like that, and with good reason, I don't think it's arrogance at all. They have a list of features but only limited resources, so they focus and what they can do the most of in the least time, and that's what we get. Google and other companies sucking the engineering talent out of the Valley, and there are only so many miracle workers to go around. It's all about triage and prioritizing.
And, of course, Apple being Apple, they'll want super battery life even with video, and a super intuitive interface for cut/copy/paste, and super crystal clear sound for A2DP, etc.
And if they can't deliver it, they'll wait.
Opposite end, when they have new tech working, they'll drop the old stuff fast as they dropped floppy and optical on the iMac and Air...
I like the new iTunes features though, but i have yet to see the repeating alert for text messages.
Does anyone else have trouble with applications failing to open to a point where you have to delete, then reload them?
I update at 2:34 on Saturday, turned everything on, played music, wi-fi, bluetooth, 3G. Had a battery for 23hours.
The last experience, after having the iphone replaced at the apple store was like 8 hours most before the update. I AM HAPPY!
The video topic. Steve jobs is smart... he's doing this the way I agree with... yes yes I do want video now.. RIGHT NOW on my iPhone.. but think about it this way.
If he gave you video now on your iPhone then what cool "New" thing would he release on the Third iPhone?
that's how he's doing this, 'Milking' it essentially. Which i think is smart. I don't think we will see video until the third gen iPhone. That way... when he announces the new iPhone we will all be Hyped up and ready to buy it =)
I know i will.... I am willing to wait for it as well..
"My battery life wasn’t much better, and my applications always installed fast.
I like the new iTunes features though, but i have yet to see the repeating alert for text messages.
Does anyone else have trouble with applications failing to open to a point where you have to delete, then reload them?"
1) I still notice a significant delay in the address book. It's slightly smoother, but still a rather big delay (I have about 50-60 ppl in my address book).
2) While 3G signal seemed to improve in stability, I think my overall reception on EDGE has declined a bit. In a few areas where I used to get 3-4 bars, I now get 0-2 bars.
3) Battery life doesn't seem to be better (and I usually run it with 3G, wifi, and bluetooth off).
4) Two of my apps (yahoo one connect and this movie app, Showtimes) stopped working after the update and had to be reinstalled.
Anyone experience these issues as well?
Other than that, overall response time seems improved. Oh, and regarding the shutter sound, I had it since 2.0.0.
Maybe it was 2.0.1 that had the shutter sound. I don't use the screen shot option that often enough to remember.
1) When in iPod listening to a song or a podcast, if you tap the screen once to display the time elapsed/remaining, you can exit the iPod app and go back in again and it remembers that you had the time bar displayed. 2.0.2 didn't do this.
2) Phone numbers when entered with country code now have a space between the country code and the number (i.e. +44 1234123456 instead of +441234123456). Prettu sure this wasn't the case in 2.0.2.
Not majors but differences nonetheless!
I think 2.1 is a bit faster than the previous one, although i have encountered some significant lag when browsing my address book. But i would like to see apple coming out with another update, which include all basic features like cut,copy,paste,forwarding sms,deleting contacts by selecting mulitiple ones,etc...etc... Hope apple can hear us and do something about it....Rest the phone is fine for me....
You can create ringtones from your iTunes songs in iTunes, or if you have a Mac, with Garage band. There are other workaround solutions for making ringtones on a PC.
I have TURNED 3G BACK OFF...AGAIN!
I am up to 7 Apps that crash at various times - all seem to be the result of changes Apple made in 2.1 without telling their vendor partners that it would impact them.
One claims to have had fix in within minutes of iTouch release... I'm on IPhone and still Apple has not released the fix to the APp Store... over a week and counting now without my most used apps and a browser that is frustrating to use.
This is not the 3G platform I was promised.