Apple iOS 4.2 Review: Refinement and Enablement

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Overhauls: iPad Multi-Tasking, AirPrint, and AirPlay

And now, for the heavy hitters.  Both the iPod touch and iPhone already had multi-tasking thanks to an earlier build of iOS 4 that shipped right alongside the original iPhone 4. But this is all-new territory for iPad owners. And when it comes to a tablet, multi-tasking seems like a must. Many of the Android and Windows 7 tablets that are coming to market have been able to claim something that the iPad couldn't: multi-tasking. But now, after making iPad owners wait for what felt like an unfairly long time, that too has been righted.

Walking and Chewing Gum, At The Same Time:
Multi-tasking on the iPad works exactly like it does on the iPhone 4. Simply double tap the "Home" button, and a drawer of icons comes up at the bottom. Swipe to the right to find more icons, and swipe to the left to pull up a control panel. You still have to press and hold icons in the drawer in order to "kill" those, just like the iPhone 4. We loaded up around 20 apps down there, and it refused to kill any on its own. If you need to free up some resources, you'll be doing it manually.

The "left slide" also brings up an interesting point. The iPad differs from the iPhone and iPod touch in that it has an orientation lock switch above the Volume rocker. But now, it's dual-purposed, in a sense.

Software change to make toggle act as Mute/Unmute

Be default, the purpose has changed. It now mute/unmutes the iPad (for alerts, etc.). This will probably confuse existing iPad owners who had grown used to using the switch as an orientation lock. The good news is that it's somewhat easy to change; just slide that multi-tasking drawer to the left, and tap that left-most icon once. It'll activate once again as an orientation lock (shown below). So at least Apple provides the option, but you'll have to dig a little to find it. The only issue here is that this doesn't actually change the switch back to its original function; you have to surf over to the software orientation switch every single time you want to lock or unlock the orientation. What a huge pain.  Why not give users the option to make the hardware switch do one thing or the other?  This is really strange, backwards thinking, and it's easily the most frustrating thing about the entire iOS 4.2.1 landscape, no pun intended.

Software change to Orientation Lock

Despite having less RAM (half as much, actually) as the iPhone 4, the iPad seemed to manage multi-tasking just fine. We didn't notice any significant slow-downs compared to iOS 3.x, and while we had grown used to multi-tasking via the Backgrounder application in the Jailbreaker's app store.  This native approach is definitely less "wonky."

New Multi-Tasking App Drawer on iPad - Thanks, iOS 4.2.1

New Wireless Connectivity Goodness:
Now, the added wireless features. Finally, you can print from your iPad without a third-party app. But you may still want one. Apple's driver-less approach is definitely simple, but there's a catch: only five or six printers are currently AirPrint-certified, mostly HP units with one Epson. If you need broader compatibility, you'll either have to wait it out and hope your printer gets certified, or rely on a third-party app. Of course, it's not necessary to print wirelessly direct from the iPad, but it's convenient. It works just as the third-party apps work, but reports around the web have shown that not all is well here. Some are having issues getting their iPad and printer to talk to one another, so hopefully Apple irons things out shortly.

AirPlay Gets Off The Ground:
AirPlay might be the biggest feature yet, but also the feature that lets down the most. Let us explain. Wireless content streaming has been a dream for years, and companies have been trying to figure it out without forcing people to pay an arm and leg for the service. Intel did so with WiDi (Wireless Display), but even now it hasn't been widely adopted. AirPlay simply allows movies and music to be streamed directly from the iPad to any other AirPlay-certified device. The Apple TV is the obvious choice; that means you can stream content from the iPad to your television with no (extra) wires, since the Apple TV is already connected to your television.

But in the future, iPod docks, speakers, sound systems, A/V receivers and more will get AirPlay certified, so again, we're looking at a situation where the future may be brighter than the present. Regardless, this is a huge software addition. This means that your iPad can be the center of your future home entertainment setup, if you so choose. The best part is that waiting for certification ensures seamless operation; the iPad streamed beautifully to a nearby Apple TV, but DRM-bound content such as content from with the ABC Viewer app did not stream. This is for your iTunes library and personal video library, really. That's the let-down we referred to. You can't simply stream anything and everything, due to licensing restrictions.  Go figure...

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