Earlier today, Apple made the iOS 4.3 available to its customers via iTunes, two days ahead of its previously announced March 11th release date.

iOS 4.3 is the release that will ship with the iPad 2, but it will also work with the iPhone 3GS, the AT&T iPhone 4, the third- and fourth-gen iPod touch, and the original iPad. If Apple sticks to its normal summer release schedule for new iOS versions, 4.3 will likely be the last major revision to iOS 4 before iOS 5 comes down the pike.

With this update, Apple has pulled the plug on iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod Touch users – rather than giving them a version of the 4.3 release stripped of its more performance-intensive features, the company has simply declined to issue iOS 4.3 for these devices at all. Also missing from the support list is the Verizon iPhone, though I suspect that this will be rectified through either a separate iOS 4.3 build or perhaps a 4.3.x build at some point in the near future.

The end of support for older devices isn’t exactly surprising, though I do wish that Apple had at least waited until iOS 5 to completely drop support for the slower hardware – Apple was selling new second-gen iPod Touches as recently as September 2010, and it continues to sell them refurbished as of this writing. All things must pass, but to cut off such recent customers seems a bit harsh. Still, Apple’s willingness to be the bad guy in this instance does help to prevent the hardware and software fragmentation endemic to the Android platform.

Older hardware aside, this article will focus mostly on what iOS 4.3 brings to users of existing devices. This is partly because the iPhone 3GS and first-generation iPad are what I’ve got to play with, and partly because most of the iPad 2-exclusive features relate to FaceTime, which by now is a thoroughly known quantity for iOS users.

A major component of the update is improved JavaScript rendering speed, courtesy of the same Nitro engine found in the desktop version of Safari. Apple says the new engine is about twice as fast as the old one, but is it true?

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9

Sunspider isn’t everthing, but as a standard benchmark it’s a useful tool for measuring relative performance - relative to iOS 4.2.1, iOS 4.3 is actually a bit more than twice as fast at running JavaScript.

This is a welcome and impressive improvement, especially for those of us who aren’t using Apple’s latest and greatest. The Motorola Xoom is included for comparison, and while JavaScript performance isn’t quite as good on the original iPad, iOS 4.3 does a lot to close the gap, especially given the iPad’s older internals.

In practice, I wouldn’t say there’s a night-and-day difference, but pages seem to load with a bit more pep. No, it’s not a scientific analysis, but you can rest easy knowing that iOS 4.3 isn’t going to slow your device down while you’re on the Web. 

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  • Stuka87 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    These things are all great, but what I *REALLY* want is a "Mark all items read" inside mail. I get my mail in several locations, so I don't always need to read them on my phone. But to clear out the count, I have to go and select each one, let it load, then move on to the next.

    But, maybe in iOS5!
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Use IMAP instead of POP? Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Why else would they cut support to devices so quickly and release the ipad 2 so quickly behind the heels of the ipad 1? They see so many other manufactures working on dual core and even quad core devices that easily mimic or exceed the performance standards of their own devices and they have no choice. The problem is when you start pushing your development cycles up to try and stay relevant you risk pissing off the very people that support them. I have only one apple device which I bought against my better judgement (iphone 3G) and when they released the iOS that literally crippled my device I saw what they were doing. Upgrade to our new devices or we will break or make your old one useless. That is the one and only apple device I will ever purchase. Reply
  • chris1317 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Fragmentation :)

    lol it feels good to get some revenge

    Regards
    Eric Schmidt
    Reply
  • bplewis24 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    lol... in deed. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Yeah, I don't see why the article says this will prevent fragmentation. Users aren't going to get rid of those devices just because they don't support the newest OS version. I'm sure there will be plenty of 2nd gen iPod touches still in use a year from now, not sure how that wouldn't be fragmentation.

    Nevermind that even devices with the same OS version don't necessarily have the same capabilities. There seems to be more fragmentation than reviewers want to admit.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    You call one company that doesn’t give away its OS to any and all vendors and who updates their products on a yearly cycle “fragmentation”? Seriously?! Your ass probably bitches about Apple not updating more frequently as soon as some new component gets into a test phase or for not giving iOS away just so it can be fragmented across hundreds of devices that never see an update, unless iDevices that get 2.5-3 years of rich updates. Reply
  • mikael.skytter - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Hello!
    As previously pointed out here, the scores for 3GS in 4.3 seems abit low.
    My friend and I have 3GS phones, he has a 32Gb model and I have the 16 Gb model.

    He got 5333.1 and I received 5479.1

    We had just updated to 4.3 and had no other Safari windows open.
    We also both have alot of applications installed so it´s not a "clean" phone.

    I ran the sunspider benchmark twice yesterday with the 4.2.1 software to compare it to your results. The result were similar. Within ~35 on both runs.

    The other scores, with the 4.3 software have also been re-run and we are 7-800 below you.
    This opens up a question on how this phones were tested.

    Is it possible for you to re-run the 4.3 benchmark on the 3GS phone?
    Reply
  • philipus - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    On my 16GB 3GS 4.3 seems faster. Safari is snappier, but also the OS interface seems perkier. 4.2 seemed a lowpoint on my phone. 4.1 was good. But 4.3 is much better. Reply
  • davidm71 - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    Anyone test battery life improvements if any over previous iOs versions? Reply

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