iOS 4.2 First Look

Early yesterday morning, iPad enthusiasts worldwide let out a huge sigh of relief when Apple released its (previously delayed) iOS 4.2 officially for the iPad. For many of us, this long-anticipated moment signifies a whole new user experience being brought to our already beloved device.

In addition to the highly anticipated multitasking support and the ability to organize apps into folders, this software update boasts other features (100+, according to Apple), which will inspire many to upgrade immediately. Although upgrading is quite simple and can be done through iTunes 10.1 at no cost to you, you may be wondering if it is worth doing immediately and if it will hinder performance or cause problems with your existing collection of apps. Our first look outlines some of the key features new to iOS 4.2 for the iPad, explores how this update can be beneficial to your user experience, and addresses questions you may have regarding its stability, speed, and effects upon battery life.

Features

Multitasking. Clearly, one of the most critical improvements in iOS 4.2 is the ability to multitask effectively between various third-party apps. But what does this really mean? Multitasking on the iPad is similar to that on the iPhone, which enables you to navigate between open applications, play audio and video in the background (a huge plus if you love listening to Pandora while you browse the web, write, etc.), receive location information, and use applications that complete tasks in the background.

Folders make all the difference in the world.

Folders. Folders are a clever way of organizing your applications. However, in addition to better organization and ease of use, the ability to add folders has one less-known but important feature: the ability to store more apps (4,400 to be precise!). Previously, on the iPad, you were able to have eleven screens with a maximum of 20 apps per screen. That is a total of 220 visible apps. Now, you are able to have eleven screens with a maximum of 20 folders on each screen, with each folder holding 20 apps. While 4,400 apps is more than most will ever have, we feel that the ability to have prompt access to more than 220 apps at a given time is a significant improvement, especially for those with higher storage capacities than the baseline model.

AirPlay. If you’re an Apple TV user, you’ll rejoice when you learn that you can now stream wirelessly to your Apple TV using your iPad. You can also use it to stream music to your living room speakers. The most impressive fact is that you can continue using your iPad as you’d like without it interfering with your streaming media. [Editor's note: Check back tomorrow for an in-depth review of AirPlay and Apple TV.]

AirPrint. Finally! There was a tremendous amount of speculation in regards to whether or not AirPrint would be dropped from this release. Fortunately, it was not. AirPrint enables those of you with compatible printers to print wirelessly with minimal effort. Unfortunately, this works with a limited selection of printers for the time being, but we anticipate it to be expanded in the near future.

Game Center. Given the popularity of gaming on the iOS platform, we’re excited that Apple has included Game Center in this software update. Game Center aims to enhance multiplayer gaming on its mobile devices by allowing for the sending and receiving of friend requests, viewing leaderboards to satisfy your craving for competition, get matched with other players, and discover new games through your friends.

AirPlay could revolutionize the way you use your iPad.

Inboxes. Apple has optimized inboxes by allowing you to view all messages from all accounts in one place. It has never been easier to switch from one inbox to another and you’ll likely appreciate the threaded message views, which will make viewing and keeping track of messages simpler and more efficient.

Parental Controls. If you share your iPad with your little ones, you’ll feel more at ease with parental controls, which enable you to prevent your young one from using particular apps, modifying your account information, and adding ‘friends’ in Game Center.

MobileMe. Calendar sharing using MobileMe is now supported, and for all users, a free MobileMe account can be created in order to access the ‘Find My Phone’ (or iPad, in this case) feature to track your device in case of theft or loss. Additionally, you’ll be able to lock the device, preventing unauthorized access in such a situation.

Added Language Support. New languages, dictionaries, and keyboards have been added, making the iPad a more viable mobile computing solution for many individuals in previously unsupported nations.

Safari. Finding just what you’re looking for online has been made easier with the update to Safari that allows you to search within a page. Also, you’ll be pleased to know that security vulnerabilities have been addressed primarily in Safari but also in mail, etc.

Control Panel. A new control panel can be accessed while in the app navigation toolbar (which is entered by pressing the home button twice). Within this view, a quick swipe from left to right brings up the control panel, which enables you to lock the screen orientation, adjust brightness, and access media playback controls for the audio or video that may be playing in the background.

Business. Stay up-to-date with your hectic schedule if you’re an iCal user. You’re now able to import .ics files. Your iPad also now supports Cisco’s AnyConnect SSL VPN or Juniper’s Junos Pulse, multiple Microsoft Exchange AdviceSynch accounts, and enhanced wireless distribution of enterprise applications.

Additional improvements include more fonts in Notes, the ability to create and edit iTunes playlists, support for Braille displays, automated spell-checking, and much more. While all this sounds desirable, what about performance? After all, the iPad has exactly half of the RAM as the iPhone 4, so you’re probably wondering how it can support all these enhancements and whether they’ll come at a steep cost, namely your battery life. The iPad’s battery is one of the top reasons why it makes such an ideal mobile companion for many, so a significant reduction in battery life would deem this update undesirable’¦

Performance

We tested iOS 4.2 on the iPad for several hours and were pleasantly surprised with its ability to run many apps in the background without substantially affecting battery life. Even when used in conjunction with Apple’s Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard, we found the battery to perform well, without any substantial or noticeable degradation in performance.

In regards to speed, we were also impressed with the iPad’s responsiveness, despite there being multiple applications running in the background at a given time. Our experience with iOS 4.2 alleviated any concerns we had that its limited processing power and 256 MB of RAM would not suffice when it came to performance. Surprisingly, that was not the case. Again, it is evident that the developers have taken these issues into consideration and coded effectively to optimize performance on the device, despite its hardware limitations.

We were pleased to have been able to run our apps without any notable compatibility issues. We have noticed a surge in iOS 4.2 support on behalf of developers of many popular apps and anticipate many more apps to provide full support in the near future if they do not already. As a matter of fact, throughout the day, we noticed several updates to support iOS functionalities, including one from the popular iAnnotate app.

Summary

Overall, we found iOS 4.2 to not only live up to expectations but to exceed them. In addition to its demonstrated stability, we were especially pleased with battery life and how ‘snappy’ the device remained, despite despite providing much greater functionality. The UI enhancements, including folders and a navigation panel to show running apps, provide a friendlier user experience. For those of you who have Apple TV, AirPlay is likely to revolutionize your experience and will likely cause you to fall in love with your device (yet again).

The security enhancements and the ability to run new VPN apps available in the App Store are notable as well for many desiring a safer browsing experience. We also can’t complain about the joy of streaming Pandora while playing Words With Friends or Scrabble.

While the previous orientation button has been awkwardly converted into a mute button (despite muting being a simple task using the volume controls on the side of the device), it’s a minor complaint and not one that will detract greatly from your user experience.

Our brief use of Game Center inspired competition, and we’ll certainly be returning quite soon, especially when more of our allies update to the new OS.

Although we encourage you to back up your apps and data prior to pursuing this update, we doubt you’ll be disappointed. This long-awaited software update has impressed us, and we hope you’re soon able to enjoy it like we have. Happy updating!

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