Apple ships iOS 4.2 update for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch (updated with AirPlay review)
The iPad can now walk and chew gum at the same time, digitally speaking, thanks to the iOS 4.2 update Apple released Monday.
This upgrade of Apple's mobile operating system, which Apple previewed at its early September press event, gives Apple's tablet computer the approximation of multitasking that newer iPhones gained with June's iOS 4 update.
As before, iOS doesn't help an iPad run multiple third-party applications at once. Instead, it provides an excellent simulation of that by quickly suspending and resuming them -- and allowing them to hand over background tasks like Web-radio playback to Apple's operating system.
And as with earlier updates, you can't install this one by downloading it directly to an iPad. You first need to connect that or any other compatible Apple mobile device -- an iPhone 3G or newer, or a second-generation iPod Touch or newer -- to a computer running the current, 10.1 release of Apple's iTunes to download and install this download. Budget some time for that task, as this requires a 551-megabyte download on an iPad (an iPod touch needed a 609-MB file), followed by a complete backup
and restoration of your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch's contents.
Beyond multitasking, iOS 4.2 adds two other long-awaited features, each of which comes with potentially frustrating restrictions.
AirPlay, allows you to sling a video you're watching on an iPad over to an Apple TV, as if the two were connected by a video cable. (Some other audio devices also support AirPlay music streaming.) But not all iOS programs work with AirPlay. Hulu Plus, for example, apparently does not.
The other, AirPrint, does away with complicated workarounds by letting you print directly from an iDevice to an AirPrint-compatible printer. But for now, only a small set of newer HP models support this feature.
In other respects, iOS 4.2 serves as a catch-up release for the iPad, adding features that arrived on the iPhone and the iPod Touch in September's iOS 4.1 update: the ability to rent TV shows from the iTunes Store, a "unified inbox" view of new messages in multiple e-mail accounts, the GameCenter hub and the ability to organize applications in separate onscreen folders, among others.
But this update brings an unexpected benefit for some customers: free use of the "Find My Phone" feature that Apple debuted last year as a component of its $99/year MobileMe service. As Apple's press release clarifies, only the newest iOS devices get this freebie: the iPad, the iPhone 4 or the fourth-generation iPod Touch.
My own WiFi-enabled printer is not on among the models that support AirPrint, but I do have a review Apple TV, so I'll be updating this post with a recap of how AirPlay works. In the meantime, what else would you like to know about iOS 4.2? And if you've installed it yourself on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, how do you like it so far?
9:34 p.m. My first impressions of AirPlay--none too positive--appear after the jump.
So about AirPlay: Apple would be wise to stop bragging about this on its site.
This feature isn't hard to set up; although it requires an Apple TV software update, that device--unlike the iPad--can download and install patches directly from Apple. And in select Apple iPad programs, it works exactly as advertised. I had a video playing from the iPad's Videos app through the Apple TV to an HDTV with two taps of the iPad's screen, and without any need to select the Apple TV or engage in other fussy handshaking. It was just as easy to send a slideshow from the iPad's Photos app to the TV and to toss a clip from its YouTube program to the set.
It's all the other apps--as in, the ones that don't duplicate software or media-sharing capabilities already on the Apple TV--that cause problems.
I expected that some iOS programs wouldn't be coded to support AirPlay and was not disappointed. Neither Hulu Plus nor ABC Player provided this option, for example.
But I didn't expect to see so many apps present an AirPlay menu and then only offer audio playback. Whether I tried to play a TV show from Netflix, a highlight reel from MLB.com's At Bat 2010, clips from such apps as the Flipboard digital magazine and the iPad editions of the Post and the New York Times, or even videos that played properly in Apple's own Safari browser at such sites as Vimeo, I got the same result: A soundtrack through the TV's speakers with nothing to accompany it on the screen.
That doesn't mean AirPlay can't help iPad, iPhone or iPod touch owners visiting friends who want to show off the media they're carrying around on their devices. But pending a major round of app updates, these problems do make AirPlay a lot less useful than Apple's advertising would suggest--even factoring in the usual degree of marketing puffery.
How'd that happen? Mac developer and Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber suggests a simple explanation: "Apple really wanted to ship iOS 4.2 in November -- especially for the sake of the iPad -- and some features didn't make the cut."
(11/23, 8:59 a.m. Added more detail about the size of the 4.2 updater, corrected an error about the update process, and included a link to Gruber's post.)
| November 22, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
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