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iOS 4.1 update released to developers

It includes the signal bar display change, upgraded Bluetooth support, and access to a redesigned GameCenter, but it's unclear if it addresses reported antenna issues.

(left) iOS 4 installed on an iPhone 4, (right) the beta version of iOS 4, on the same device.

Is this the solution to the antenna-related woes of the iPhone 4?

Less than a month since its introduction, Apple has already released an initial version of a software update to iOS 4. iOS 4.1 was made available to developers Wednesday.

iPhone signal bars
On top, the original iPhone signal bars. On the bottom, the newer, taller ones. CNET

It's likely this is the update Apple promised two weeks ago. In an open letter, Apple said that the problem some people are having with reception and bandwidth dropping off when gripping the iPhone 4 in a certain way is linked to software that incorrectly displays the phone's signal bars. The update was promised to make the signal bars display more accurately and more clearly. In the example above and to the right, it does appear that our iPhone 4 with iOS 4.1 installed does have slightly taller signal bars.

It's not clear, however, that the signal bar display has anything to do with the antenna "death grip" issue. The antenna problem appears to be hardware-related (the antenna is integrated into the metal strip running around the exterior of the phone), and whether the signal bars are displaying incorrectly wouldn't affect whether a call is actually dropped or a signal is lost.

CNET has the iOS update, and we'll be testing it on the iPhone 4s we have to see if it fixes the antenna problems, so stay tuned.

Update, 4:30 p.m. PDT: Though we'll be doing more rigorous testing, we did an initial tryout of the new software. On the same phone with iOS 4 where we experienced dropped calls while covering the lower left part of the iPhone 4, we still had dropped calls with iOS 4.1. But this time, the calls were dropping with two signal bars still showing. Previously they would drop with zero signal bars showing. As we wrote before, the antenna issue seems to vary from phone to phone and in different locations.

Update, Thursday at 1:10 p.m. PDT: There's more to the iOS 4.1 release than initially thought. Besides including the 4.0.1 update for signal bar display, Apple has also included upgraded Bluetooth support, access to a redesigned GameCenter (which was announced but not included in iOS 4), repositioning of the flash button when camera is in landscape mode, the ability to add favorites for Voice and FaceTime calls, and the ability to turn off spell-check, according to developers who have access to the beta release.

The Bluetooth update fixes a known problem. With iOS 4.1, Bluetooth headsets or car dashboards will now have full access to all the functions of the iPhones to which they're connected. Previously, iPhone 4 owners noticed that some Bluetooth headsets could control only the volume function, not track skipping.

The new GameCenter contained in the  beta release of iOS 4.1.
The new GameCenter contained in the beta release of iOS 4.1. CNET