When last we visited our friendly neighbourhood iPhone, iPhone Software Update 1.1.2 had been rolled out, bringing it with a handful of largely unremarkable changes. Late last year, our appetites were whetted by what now appear to be genuine leaked copies of the 1.1.3 software update, but that hunger was not truly sated until Steve Jobs took the stage at Macworld Expo and confirmed the new features that this latest software update would bring.
Now that it's out in the open, 1.1.3 is a free download for all iPhone users in the UK, US, France and Germany; it'll show up when they sync their phones with iTunes. And, of course, all new iPhones shipping past this date will also include the new software. I’ve upgraded my phone and taken a tour through the new features it has to offer.
Maps received a bigger overhaul in 1.1.3 than any other program on the iPhone - you might call it this update's iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. Not only have several new features been added to the application, but the look and organisation has been reshuffled to provide a simpler, more elegant interface. The buttons at the bottom now feature only Search and Directions tabs, plus a crosshairs icon for locations and an eye icon for viewing options.
While many bemoan the lack of GPS integration on the iPhone, the 1.1.3 software update's flagship feature is a new system that can approximate your position in the Maps program via some clever software work on the part of Google and a company called Skyhook Wireless.
Both companies use information about your iPhone's network signal in order to fix its location: Google's My Location functionality relies on triangulating it from data collected by the cell phone towers in your area, while Skyhook has collected a database of over 23 million Wi-Fi hotspots which they can use to plot your position. Precision varies: Skyhook claims accuracy to 20 metres; Google can only promise accuracy to about 1,000 metres.
How does it work? Well, once you press the crosshairs icon on the bottom left of the Maps interface, the iPhone will work for a few moments and a set of blue crosshairs will appear on the map showing your general location. In my brief tests, the location features works pretty well, though it does work considerably more precisely using the Wi-Fi positioning than the mobile-phone system, locating us almost spot on in our offices.
Skyhook has mapped only the US so far, but plans to cover Europe during 2008. Google’s technology is similarly expected to roll across the UK later in the year.