The iOS 5.1 beta software from Apple (s aapl) was released on Monday afternoon for developers, and while at first glance it didn’t appear to add much, subsequent investigations by users have produced a few interesting tidbits about what’s new. Most interesting of all could be references to the next iPad.
Code in the beta software makes reference to an iPad 2.4, which follows the coding convention by which Apple refers to its products but isn’t yet represented by a shipping device. It could be the Sprint (s s) iPad some have suggested is on the way, says 9t05Mac, which also holds that if it is a dedicated Sprint device, it might support WiMAX. The code also references an iPad 3.3, which joins existing references to an iPad 3.1 and iPad 3.2, all of which are thought to refer to Apple’s next-gen tablet, reportedly planned for release early next year.
Other new products suggested in the code include a new Apple TV, referenced as J33, and a new iPhone, code-named iPhone 5.1. The iPhone 5 has been rumored for release next year, but the inclusion of it in Apple code means it’s almost definitely being tested internally with this latest software update.
Hints in the code are only one side of the iOS 5.1 coin. There are also a couple of relatively small but very practical changes in how the iPad manages network data and power for those who fear battery-busting drain from certain services. There is now a switch to control whether or not iTunes Match is allowed to use cellular data to do its download and streaming thing, which is a welcome addition for folks on a limited data plan.
There is also a new indicator for location services use. It’s an outlined version of the little purple arrow that appears next to items in your list of apps under the Location Services settings screen (or in your status bar) to show an app that is using a geofence. A geofence is what Reminders uses to make location-aware to-dos work, and it uses less power than an app that is currently actively using your location information. It makes the location services notification system slightly more complicated, but it should help users better predict how long their batteries will last as well as be more aware of exactly what data their phone is using at any given time.
Finally, there is a new voice dictation feature that developers will be able to take advantage of, which seems to allow them to code responses to recognized phrases. So, basically, it looks like apps might be able to have very basic and preprogrammed “conversations” with users under iOS 5.1, as long as everyone sticks to the script.
There doesn’t appear to be any reference to additional voice command options with Siri that would allow you to do things like turn off Wi-Fi, as was rumored for iOS 5.1 earlier in the month. Still, it’s early days yet for the beta, so we’re not counting anything out completely.