Apple introduced the fourth beta version of its iPhone 4 operating system May 18, and developers were surprised to discover a feature that suggests AT&T may be finally ready to allow customers to use their iPhones for tethering, Mac Rumors first reported.
Were AT&T to allow tethering-as several carriers abroad have for some time-an iPhone could be used as a modem, via Bluetooth or USB, to connect other devices, such as laptops.
While the iPhone has offered the capability for some time, AT&T has blocked it, faced with the big-enough challenge of supporting iPhone traffic, particularly in cities such as New York and San Francisco, where the carrier faces high volumes of data and high concentrations of users.
During its first-quarter earnings call, however, AT&T executives said they had made considerable strides in improving service in these cities. In Manhattan, AT&T reported having improved its 3G voice composite quality index by 47 percent, giving average data download speeds that are "close to our nationwide average."
Whether the AT&T network is finally ready to support the additional traffic, or Apple simply put pressure on AT&T to allow the capability, is unclear.
Further, despite a configuration page in the latest iPhone 4 beta telling the user, "To enable tethering on this account, contact AT&T at 611 or visit http://www.att.com/mywireless," not everyone's convinced.
"That's just a glitch," Alexander Vaughn of App Advice said of the pop-up window. "It causes your iPhone to misinterpret its carrier-specific settings and leaves tethering activated. That's all there is to it, sorry."
Apple fans will likely find out for certain in June, when Apple is expected to release its annual refresh, though the company has never confirmed this. (It seems probable based on events in mid-April, however, when an Apple engineer forgot what appeared to be an iPhone 4G prototype in a bar. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and his legal team, asked for it back, after editors at the tech site Gizmodo had their way with it.)
More certain additions to iPhone OS 4, which Jobs introduced April 8, include multitasking, support for multiple Exchange mailboxes, e-mail encryption, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPN support and enhanced mobile device management options.
Other hoped-for features in the newest iPhone have included a front-facing camera with flash, a better microphone and more storage.