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Posted at 3:25 PM ET, 11/22/2010

Apple ships iOS 4.2 update for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch (updated with AirPlay review)

By Rob Pegoraro

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'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.

Other reviewers have found similar results.

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.)

By Rob Pegoraro  | November 22, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  Video  
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This is what I love and then hate about Apple products lately. They have a REALLY good idea, like Airplay or Facetime or multitasking, but then hobble it somehow. So then I have to either wait for a later update or I have to jailbreak my iPod. I wish they would just deliver completely on an idea. Once I can afford it, I'm definitely getting a Droid phone. No way I'm getting an Iphone.

Posted by: tom_ryan | November 22, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

The update immediately caused my iPad to hang ... now I'm in the very long process of restoring. Sigh. It seems Apple is turning into the 21st-century version of Microsoft.

Posted by: bibleburner | November 22, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

@bibleburner, your iPad probably didn't hang. I updated mine last night and it took a looong time and appeared to stall. But I waited it out and it eventually completed the install.

I'm happy to have the same features on my iPad that I've enjoyed on my iPhone 4 for a while. I thought I might see performance degradation under the new OS, but the iPad is a zippy as ever.

Posted by: CafeBeouf | November 23, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Rob - while I agree that it would make sense to be able to play more video (and not just audio) from other apps, I personally was amazed at what Airplay with the new Apple TV can do currently. It's so much better than trying to keep a single location for all our media to live and keep our old Apple TV synced. Now, my iPhone, my laptop, my wife's iPhone and her laptop can ALL push media to the Apple TV and our HDTV -- it doesn't matter where the media lives now. Simply brilliant and I couldn't be more pleased. I look forward to when they add more functionality, but for the moment, what it does offer more than suits my family's needs.

Posted by: rhythmic_one | November 23, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

When I tried to updated my iPhone it eventually locked up and needed to be restored to the factory default before I could do the update, and that only once it was plugged directly into the computer insead of the USB extension I had been using for years.

Posted by: jswilson | November 23, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like it has to do with DRM; that's dependent on the vestiges of Old Media.

This list of content provided in the story is being sold in at least 1 channel; contractual agreements: artificial scarcity.

As advertising and content continue to blend, and products & services can be directly sold through content, the stupid piracy fear will cease to be an issue, and we'll all get paid.

We've always shared content. Ever make a mixed tape? Ever buy an artist's entire portfolio because a friend turned you on to them? Let us turn some of our newfound free-time (a.k.a. high unemployment) into sharing so we'll start figuring out how to trade again--just like in kindergarten.

Or, how about just letting us share our own content with our own TV or display?! Please.

Because of the greed of middlemen, we get half-off solutions like AirPlay.

Posted by: chenelson | November 23, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Just updated my Ipad, love the folders and multitasking. AirPrint what a joke, why even bother adding it if it only supports a handful of printers. Have already sent my regards to Apple, they had to know this was going to cause an avalanche of bad feelings.

Posted by: bobcaruso | November 23, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

I updated my iPad with the new iOS 11/23 am. It took 50 minutes or so, time fruitfully spent at the gym. Since I don't have an iPhone (no AT&T presence in this area, guess we are part of the 3%) and my iPod is 1st generation, I had no idea how to use the "multi-tasking" attributes of iOS 4. Is there a help screen somewhere on the iPad?
(I did find a relevant article this am.)

My chief complaint is that the new iOS does not like my email provider and claims that it is an illegal alien. Warning notes flash up every time it accesses my email accounts. It's very annoying and I had to turn off automatic email checking. I almost restored the original iOS. But since I do like the almost multi-tasking aspects, I'm going to stick with it for a while.

Is there any way to get rid of unwanted icons and the accompanying software, the games thingy for example?

Posted by: MMRudy | November 24, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

FINALLY – the iOS4.2 update cured the proximity sensor problem on my iPhone 4. No more DTMF tones going off while I'm speaking to folks. AND the Find iPhone is great. I'm more than happy!

Posted by: mehamner | November 25, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Steve Jobs has become more cynical and evil as Bill Gates once was (and Gates seems like a nicer guy since he is out helping the third world fight polio).

Every new IOS release seems more bloated and designed to bog down my 3G iPhone. My phone has not reached the end of its 2-yr contract and it is nearly useless because it takes so long for an app to get started (ever try to start Maps after you stop for a red light?). The battery won't last an entire day unless you turn the 3G off (why should I buy a 3G phone if I have to turn off the 3G in order to be able to call 911 at 7PM?).

Is this new IOS release even more bloated?

Posted by: reston75 | November 26, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

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