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Friday, March 05, 2010, 07:00 pm PT (10:00 pm ET)

Reader: Steve Jobs says no tethering between iPad and iPhone

Steve Jobs appears to have fired off a tersely worded email reply to a user in Sweden who asked whether the WiFi-only iPad could be tethered to the iPhone: "No."

Jezper Söderlund of the Swedish website Slashat.se reports that he sent Apple's chief executive an email identifying himself as an Apple customer before adding, "I'm also awaiting the release of the iPad. However, I have one question: Will the wifi-only version somehow support tethering thru my iPhone?"

The full email headers Söderlund forwarded to AppleInsider appear to indicate that Jobs sent his one word reply at 8:30 AM from his iPhone.

Whether one can tether

Apple currently supports Bluetooth and USB (but not WiFi) tethering to share an iPhone's 3G mobile signal with another computer in iPhone 3.x software. However, enabling the feature requires approval from the carrier.

AT&T does not allow iPhone tethering in the US, nor do some other iPhone carriers in other regions. Well over a year ago in late 2008, AT&T executive Ralph De La Vega said that iPhone tethering was coming "soon."

Apple introduced the technical capacity to tether with the iPhone 3.0 firmware in mid 2009, but AT&T failed to deliver any progress in approving an iPhone tethering plan for its subscribers throughout 2009, and has yet to even provide an update on when that will happen.

Tethering the iPad to an iPhone

In order to use iPhone tethering from a Mac or PC, the computer must be able to connect to the iPhone via USB or Bluetooth, and must support a network connection over that interface.

While the iPad includes Bluetooth hardware, it is not yet known if it will support a network uplink connection over Bluetooth (known as a "Wireless iAP"). The iPhone OS does not currently enable this as a feature so it is doubtful the iPad will, particularly given Jobs flat out "no" answer to tethering. Bluetooth support in iPhone OS devices is also limited in many other respects.

Being able to access an iAP within the iPhone OS (a "reverse tether") would allow iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users to connect to and share an iPhone or computer's Internet access via Bluetooth, rather than only over a mobile EDGE/3G network or over WiFi hotspot. That's not currently possible.

The iPhone OS also offers no support for "reverse tethering" over USB, shutting down the other avenue for connecting an iPad to an iPhone with tethering enabled. The iPhone OS also does not support acting as a gateway to share its mobile Internet access over WiFi to other computers, even though iPhone OS devices can all access any WiFi hotspot.

Apple has made no comments about the iPad's ability to tether its 3G access (allowing a computer to share the iPad's mobile access data plan), likely because it is not intended to do so. The data plan on the iPad is priced so much lower than most general purpose 3G dongle plans that it appears clear that AT&T does not expect users to be sharing it for general use from other computers.