Yesterday, Apple announced the much anticipated software update to iOS, the mobile operating system for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches. iOS 4.1 skips right over iOS 4.2.0 and dives into iOS 4.2.1, which brings all iOS devices onto a more level playing field. This iOS update will be most exciting for iPad users, who have been in a sort of limbo between iOS 3 and iOS 4. Now, iPad users will enjoy all the features that have been old news for iPhone users for quite some months. Meanwhile, there are a few key features that have been introduced in iOS 4.2.1 that may be real gamechangers, just in time for the holiday gadget buying frenzy. Explanations follow…
What’s New in iOS 4.2.1. for iPad Users
In spite of essentially being an overgrown iPod Touch, iPads have lacked some of the most coveted features of its little brothers. iOS 4.2.1 puts an end to all this envy, and now iPad users get:
- Multitasking – iPhone users already know that this isn’t true multitasking, but it’s good enough for now. Depending on how the app developer incorporates it, iOS 4 apps can either have their states saved while you return to the home screen and launch other apps, or they can continue playing back audio in the background. This means that iPad users, at long last, can listen to Pandora or NPR Music while browsing the web or cruising Facebook. A must-have feature that was way too long coming. To switch between apps, simply double-tap the home button and swipe through the drawer that opens. (Tip: If all those apps “running” in the background stresses you out, you can touch and hold until they start wigglin’ and “Force Quit” them one by one. I do this compulsively, but it’s just a habit—I don’t notice any significant differences in battery life or performance when I have 20 apps open versus having a clean slate.)
- Games Center – The official iOS social gaming hub lets you go head-to-head with other players and post high scores to the leaderboard. Games not included.
- Unified Inbox – Took me awhile to get used to it, but now I can’t live without it. If you have multiple email accounts synced to your iPad, you can now see all of your inboxes on a single screen. If you want to see only one inbox at a time, you can back out and then open them up individually. When you reply to a message, iOS automatically assumes you want to send from the email address that received the message.
- Folders – You can now group apps together into folders, which saves you some real estate on the home screen and keeps your apps organized. This feature works even better on the iPad, where you can cram 20 icons onto your screen. Unfortunately, each folder can only hold 12 apps each (no scrolling folders).
- Rejiggered orientation lock button – In a controversial, yet necessary, move, the iPad’s physical button that locked the screen orientation has now been remapped to be a mute button. That’s because the lock screen orientation button is now located in the multitasking drawer—you have to double-tap the home button and swipe all the way to the left to find it, just like iPhone and iPod Touch users.
Those are the major upgrades that iPad users get, but there are even more features that everyone gets. Check ‘em out:
New Features for iOS 4.2.1
There are quite a few little tweaks and touchups with iOS 4.2.1., such as the addition of new fonts to the Notes app and personalized text message notifications (like ringtones for your texts). But the three most exciting ones are AirPlay and AirPrint. AirPlay lets you stream music, photos and video to AirPlay enabled devices. For now, this mostly means Apple TV, but many manufacturers, such as iHome, are developing or have already released AirPlay compatible speakers and stereos. On the videos side, this means not only movies you’ve purchased or rented on iTunes, but also videos from YouTube and Vimeo. Very groovy. Meanwhile, your iPhone or iPad works like a remote, allowing you to scrub seek, pause and play. Plus, now that iPads have multitasking, you can stream a movie to your Apple TV while surfing, playing games or checking email on your iPad.
Of course, the ability to wirelessly stream music to other devices isn’t new to iOS. But with Apple pushing this and supporting it natively, I really do see AirPlay becoming a standard in wirelessly connectivity. This could spell the end for third-party wireless streaming systems, such as Sonos.
Editors Comments: MrGroove
Don’t forget – In order to get AirPlay to work on your iPad and iPhone, you need to upgrade both your iPhone/iPad AND your Apple TV device. After I upgraded my system I played with Airplay for about an hour last night. Overall, not bad however I found the iPad worked a lot better than my iPhone 4. Specifically, streaming photos from my iPhone to my Apple TV caused the system to freeze. My iPad however worked seamlessly. Very cool and very simple. Overall, bye by Sonos…
AirPrint is pretty groovy, too, but needs to gain more traction before it gets really exciting. As the name suggests, AirPrint allows you to print directly from your iPhone or iPad to a wireless printer. Again, this isn’t something that the determined and geeky haven’t been able to accomplish in the past—but AirPrint promises a more seamless and quirk-free experience. The only problem: only a handful of printers currently support AirPrint—most notably, HP’s ePrint line. It’s still not quite as simple as printing from a laptop to a WiFi printer, but it’s a much needed step in the right direction. Last year, my mother was considering forgoing a home computer and just going with an iPad instead, and I cautioned her away from it because of the lack of a printer. Now, I might actually recommend it.
Another much needed upgrade to iOS 4 is the addition of a search within webpage feature in Safari. A feature that’s been available in desktop browsers for over a decade and competing mobile platforms for years, Safari has been slow to adopt this feature. To find text mentioned within a page, you can type it into the normal search bar and it will display “on this page” matches below the search suggestions. Not quite as intuitive as hitting CTRL-F, but I can’t think of a better way off the top of my head.
Lastly, there’s another new addition to iOS 4 that is going to rattle some cages: the Find My iPhone feature is now free for those with an iPad, iPhone 4 or 4th generation iPod Touch. That’s going to really grind the gears of anyone who invested in a MobileMe account primarily for this feature, but it’ll bring a sigh of relief to anyone who’s concerned about sticky fingers or klutzy misplacements. The feature works to help you find your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.
As I said above, there are some additional improvements, such as those geared towards enterprise users, international users and accessibility features. You can get more details presented in classic Apple fashion over at the Apple.com.
Oh, also, I should mention that iOS 4.2.1 has been jailbroken—but Cydia is not yet compatible with iOS 4.2.1. So, yes you can jailbreak your iPhone after upgrading to iOS 4.2.1, but you won’t be able to download third-party apps, nor should you be too confident that the apps you have purchased will work until you get word from the developers. For that reason, I for one am holding off a bit on the upgrade—as an iPhone user, I’ve already got the multitasking, folders and unified inbox and can live without AirPlay until I buy a compatible device.
But for any of you looking for great holiday gifts for your iPhone lover, an AirPlay speaker, Apple TV or AirPrint enabled printer just topped the list!