iOS 4.3 To Launch In Mid-December With App Subscriptions

iOS 4.2 went public yesterday, but Apple is already aiming at a mid-December release for the next major update of its mobile operating system, iOS 4.3. Before we get into the details and we try to put the pieces together, it is necessary to recap all the rumors that have been going around recently about News Corp.'s upcoming iPad-only newspaper, The Daily. [The Daily icon via Consomac]

Last week James Murdoch confirmed News Corp. was working on an upcoming tablet-only publication, a "very exciting" project that was set to be released "soon". Three days later, Rupert Murdoch himself told Fox Business about the app, called The Daily:

News Corp. has spent the last three months assembling a newsroom that will soon be about 100 staffers strong. The Daily will launch in beta mode sometime around Christmas, and will be introduced to the public on the iPad and other tablet devices in early 2011. It is expected to cost 99 cents a week, or about $4.25 a month. It will come out — as the name suggests — seven days a week. The operation is currently working out of the 26th floor of the News Corp. Building on Sixth Avenue in a space that looks like a veritable construction zone. The staff’s permanent home will be on the ninth floor, and they’ll move down once it’s ready.

Together with details revealed by Fox Business and WWDMedia, the Guardian reported The Daily was the result of a "collaboration that has been secretly under development in New York for several months" between Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch. We speculated that Apple's involvement in the project might be the first step towards the implementation of iTunes recurring subscriptions for apps.

Yesterday, Daring Fireball's John Gruber (whose sources are usually spot-on) weighed in to confirm that yes, Apple has been working with News Corp. over the launch of The Daily, and this "initiative is going to launch with a press event, with Murdoch (and perhaps other newspaper and magazine executives) joining Steve Jobs on stage". He also wrote this won't be a "quiet launch" at all.

What's really interesting is the role Apple and iOS are going to play: recurring subscriptions for newspapers might be implemented on a server-side level, on iTunes' backend, but Gruber speculated they may also require an iOS update to support subscription billing APIs. It is possible that News Corp's engineers and developers have already been provided these APIs, but it's important to specify that, according to the rumors, Apple isn't building an "iNewstand": instead, it's a brand new recurring subscription for App Store apps. The Daily will likely be the first app to support it, and this should be announced with a media event. As a matter of fact, Gruber also writes:

The date I’ve heard is December 9, but that’s a Thursday, which would be somewhat unusual for an Apple press event. My guess is that they’re telling people December 9 but it might slip back to Tuesday or Wednesday the week after.

Here's what we heard from a reliable source: when Apple didn't know about the WiFi issues in the GM seed of iOS 4.2, the OS was scheduled to be released weeks before Nov. 22nd. Apple found out about the WiFi issues, released a second GM build and iOS 4.2 came out yesterday. It came out in November, but it should have been out in the first half of November. Anyway, before the WiFi issues were discovered, Apple was already planning to release a new build of iOS 4.x in mid-December. Most specifically, they were planning for an iOS 4.3 release on December 13th, which is a Monday.

Our source tells us it is unclear whether the "extra time" that was required to ship iOS 4.2 (actually, it's iOS 4.2.1) will cause a delay for the rumored release of iOS 4.3 on December 13th or not. iOS 4.3 should, however, include bug fixes and maintenance of the code. It's likely that 4.3 will also address the initial issues found in AirPlay, but we can't confirm this just yet.

Back to The Daily, our source corroborates Gruber's theory about recurring subscriptions: an iOS update will be needed to support them, and iOS 4.3 is supposed to be that update. The rumored December 13th release date should follow Apple's announcement on December 9th, which is a Thursday. It could change, but apparently Apple wants to keep with the 12/9 announcement.

Also, Apple's plans for recurring subscriptions may include the data center Apple has been busy building in Maiden, North Carolina. Our source told us Apple isn't saying much, but judging by some the internal documents, it seems this is going to be a mass expansion of all services, iTunes, MobileMe, activations, retail services and any cloud services they might go with in the future. It appears that the current system is really getting pushed to its boundaries especially when new music comes out or when major iOS updates are released and on a couple occasions servers were really close to a complete overload and outage. Indeed users experienced download errors when iOS 4 came out in June, and the same happened for several users yesterday with iOS 4.2 -- especially in Europe.

As for the cloud involvement in Apple's delivering of periodical content for newspaper apps, the Guardian also reported:

The central innovation, developed with assistance from Apple engineers, will be to dispatch the publication automatically to an iPad or any of the growing number of similar devices.

We're pretty sure such an implementation would require an update to iOS and a strong backend, both on Apple's and News Corp's side. Back in July, Apple confirmed the data center in North Carolina would be complete and ready to use by the end of the year.