Today Apple released iOS 4.2 for the iPhone, iPod touch and, most notably, the iPad. Originally announced at the company’s fall event back in September, iOS 4.2 represents the unification of the iOS operating system across all of Apple’s mobile devices, bringing the iPad up to speed with the multitasking capabilities and other major features introduced in iOS 4 and bringing the anticipated AirPlay and AirPrint features to the entire family.
Downloading and Installing
As with all other previous iOS updates, an entire new firmware package is downloaded and applied to your device. Users can expect the update to come in between 300 and 750 MB depending upon your specific device model. iOS 4.2 should install on all current iOS 4.x devices and the iPad as an in-place update without erasing any existing data or settings, but as always it’s best to ensure that you have a current backup of your device before starting. iTunes normally handles this for you automatically—you can check the status of your iOS device backups by visiting the Devices page in your iTunes preferences.
Note that if you’re upgrading an iPhone or iPod touch that isn’t already running some version of iOS 4 then the same update process applies as it did with the original iOS 4.0 release—second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G devices will be erased and restored as part of the process with an additional FULL backup of the device being made before the restore begins, including all media content. This backup may be time consuming, so you should allow for a couple of hours for it to complete. Alternatively if you’re using automatic synchronization and have all of your content already in your iTunes library, you can save quite a bit of time by disabling automatic synchronization and removing all of the content from your device by deselecting it before performing the update. Once the update has completed, you can re-enable automatic synchronization and add your content back from iTunes at your leisure.
Again, however, this issue only applies to the second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G if you’re not already running iOS 4.0 on these devices. The third- and fourth-generation iPod touch, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 and the iPad should upgrade in-place. See Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 4.0 for more information on the iOS 3 to iOS 4 update process.
For iPhone and iPod touch users, the differences between which features are available for older models remain the same. Original iPhone and first-generation iPod touch users can’t apply this update at all, and second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G users will find themselves unable to use multitasking, home screen wallpapers and Bluetooth keyboards. The iPhone 3G also continues to be the only iOS 4 capable device left out of Game Center.
Further, iOS 4.2 introduces new features that are not available on the older devices. Notably, neither AirPrint nor AirPlay are available on the iPhone 3G and the second-generation iPod touch supports AirPlay but does not support AirPrint.
What’s new for the iPad
iOS 4.2 represents an extremely significant update for iPad users, as it brings the iPad into the iOS 4 family, adding all of the major features that came to iPhone and iPod touch users with the release of iOS 4.0 back in June. This includes features such as multitasking, home screen folders, unified Mail inbox and more.
Home Screen and Folders
The home screen on the iPad with iOS 4.2 looks much as it did in iOS 3.2. Other than the new Game Center icon, no additional applications have been added, and apps from the iPhone and iPod touch such as Calculator, Stock and Weather remain conspicuously absent on the iPad. Further, although support for custom home screen wallpaper was introduced to the iPhone and iPod touch in iOS 4.0, the iPad has had this feature since the beginning so it’s not new here.
iOS 4.2 does introduce home screen folders, however, allowing users to group and organize their applications more effectively. The feature works in the same way as it does on the iPhone and iPod touch, however the iPad allows up to 20 applications to be stored in a single folder due to the larger screen. The iPad can already display 20 apps per home screen rather than the 16 apps supported by the iPhone and iPod touch, however with the iPad this number has been stretched a bit further by compressing the space between each app icon to squeeze 20 apps into a folder. This notably allows a 4×5 grid to be displayed regardless of whether folders are shown in portrait or landscape view.
Note that the limit of apps in each folder remains at 12 for the iPhone and iPod touch even with iOS 4.2.
iOS 4.2 also brings all of the iOS 4 background multitasking features to the iPad, such as background audio, location services, fast app switching and task completion. As an added bonus, universal apps that include iOS 4 multitasking support for the iPhone and iPod touch will be able to take advantage of the iPad multitasking features right away without needing to be updated. Non-universal apps that were built only for the iPad will require updates to add multitasking support, however many of these updates have already begun to appear in the App Store so it seems unlikely that users will need to wait too long to take advantage of the new features.
The iPad provides a multitasking dock that works in much the same way as on the iPhone and iPod touch; a double-tap of the Home Button brings up the multitasking dock that shows all running and recently used applications. On the iPad, the multitasking dock can be displayed in either portrait or landscape orientation and can display up to seven icons on a single screen when viewed in landscape mode.
As on the iPhone and iPod touch, swiping to the right on the multitasking dock reveals additional controls for background audio volume and playback and rotation lock. The iPad also adds a slider that can be used to adjust the screen brightness.
Beyond these subtle differences, multitasking on the iPad works in much the same way as on the iPhone and iPod touch.
iOS 4.2 naturally also adds Apple’s Game Center feature, first introduced to the iPhone and iPod touch with iOS 4.1. Game Center on the iPad provides the same features as on other iOS devices, making use of the larger iPad screen by displaying a montage of Game Center games on the main sign-in and profile pages and using multiple column layouts for the Friends, Requests and Games tabs.
Users who already have a Game Center account on their iPhone or iPod touch can simply sign in with their Apple ID on the iPad version and all of the existing friends’ lists and game status will appear on the iPad.
The Hardware Switch
One of the potentially more controversial changes to the iPad with iOS 4.2 is the behaviour of the hardware switch. When Apple first debuted the iPad last January, the side switch was supposed to perform the same function as it does on the iPhone—notably to mute ringer and alert volume. In March just prior to the iPad’s U.S. release, the switch was changed to function as an orientation lock instead so that users could easily lock the iPad in either portrait or orientation mode.
With iOS 4.2 the switch has regressed to the original feature Apple had advertised it as and now functions as a mute switch. Orientation lock is now handled using the lock button in the multitasking dock in much the same way as it is on the iPhone and iPod touch except that the iPad allows you to lock orientation in either portrait or landscape mode using this control.
It is important to note that like the iPhone the iPad switch is not intended to be a general-purpose mute for all sounds, but is instead designed to silence notification and alert sounds. Apple’s own built-in apps and any properly designed third-party apps will continue to play normal audio according to the device’s volume settings regardless of the position of the mute switch, however notifications such as new mail sounds, calendar alerts and push notification alerts will be muted by this switch, as presumably would ring sounds from iPad-compatible VoIP apps and any future FaceTime capabilities. Oddly, the icon shown when the mute switch is activated is a speaker rather than a bell, unlike the iPhone, despite reports from earlier iOS 4.2 versions that a bell was used instead.
Note that with iOS 3.2 there was no easy way to mute only alert sounds without either muting the system volume entirely or visiting the Settings app to turn notification sounds off individually.
Users can now specify how long to display each photo during a Picture Frame slideshow on the iPad.
iOS 4.2 on the iPad adds several new built-in wallpaper options, mostly inspired by the wallpapers added in iOS 4 on the iPhone and iPod touch.
Other iOS 4 Features
The iPad of course gets all of the other goodness from iOS 4, including the unified inbox, message threading, wireless Notes syncing, GMail enhancements, multiple Exchange accounts, calendar enhancements and much more. These are covered in much more detail in our earlier article on Secrets & Features of iOS 4 and Secrets and Features of iOS 4.1 although some of the more significant changes are worth noting here as well.
Universal Inbox & Threading
The Mail app on the iPad remains mostly the same as before although iOS 4.2 now adds the ability to display a unified inbox for users with multiple e-mail accounts similar to the feature introduced to the iPhone and iPod touch in iOS 4.0.
The message threading feature has also been added which can be enabled in the Mail, Contacts, Calendars settings under “Organize by Thread.”
The features both work in the same manner as on the iPhone and iPod touch, with the unified inbox and threads displayed in the left-hand pane on the iPad and the main panel continuing to display only the currently selected message.
Resizing Images when Sending in Mail
iOS 4 introduced the ability to resize images when sending them from teh Photos app via e-mail on the iPhone and iPod touch. The iPad also inherits this feature with iOS 4.2 although it handles it a bit differently, displaying a cumulative size for all attached images to the right of the mail compose window. Tapping on this expands the additional message fields and includes a button bar that can be used to resize the images before sending the message, with the approximate size listed beside each preset.
Tapping on alternate size will display the resized images directly in the compose window.
The Calendar on the iPad in iOS 4.2 inherits the pastel colouring introduced to the iPhone/iPod touch in iOS 4.1 and adds the ability to edit calendar assignments for existing events. Beyond this, the Calendar app remains basically identical to iOS 3.2.
TV Show Rentals
With iOS 4.2 the iPad finally adds support for TV Show rentals introduced by Apple in September. Unlike movie rentals, TV Show rentals specifically require iOS 4.1 or later, which left this feature limited to the second-generation Apple TV, iPhone and iPod touch.
With the release of iOS 4.2, users can now transfer rented TV shows from their iTunes library to their iPad in the same manner as for the iPhone and iPod touch. TV shows can also be rented directly on the iPad from the iTunes Store, however any content rented on the iPad must be watched on the iPad and cannot be transferred back to your iTunes library.
One of the biggest new features announced for iOS 4.2 in September was the introduction of AirPlay, Apple’s new media streaming protocol for iTunes and iOS devices. AirPlay is an evolution and rebranding of AirTunes, Apple’s long-standing audio streaming feature for iTunes and its Airport Express base stations and expands upon the earlier protocol by adding the ability to stream photos and videos as well as opening up support to third-party accessories. AirPlay on iOS 4.2 allows audio to be streamed to an Airport Express, Apple TV or any third-party AirPlay-compatible speakers such as iHome’s upcoming iW1. In addition to audio, however, AirPlay can also be used to stream video and photos to the second-generation Apple TV.
AirPlay is available on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad running iOS 4.2 and works with the built-in applications that provide audio, video and photo output—namely the iPod, Music, Videos, Photos and YouTube apps. Third-party applications that use standard media playback controls and supported audio and video formats can also take advantage of the new AirPlay feature. When playing back audio or video from a supported application an AirPlay button will appear to the right of the playback controls when iOS detects one or more AirPlay-compatible devices on your network.
Tapping on this button will bring up a list of AirPlay devices that you can stream your currently playing content to. Beside each device either a speaker or TV icon will appear to indicate whether only audio or both audio and video will be streamed to that device.
Note that some applications such as the iPod and Music apps will only stream audio to an AirPlay device such as the Apple TV, in which case only the speaker icon will be shown in those applications. Even some video capable third-party apps may only be able to stream audio at this point and it will be up to third-party developers to decide whether or not to enable their applications to stream video to the Apple TV, or in fact whether they want to allow any of their output to be streamed via AirPlay at all.
Streaming Music and Other Audio
Audio output can be streamed via AirPlay to any AirPlay or AirTunes compatible device, including older-generation AirPort Express stations. Oddly, the first-generation Apple TV, even with AirTunes enabled, does not appear as an AirPlay destination, despite the fact that Airport Express base stations as old as 2005 support AirPlay/AirTunes without any problems, suggesting the omission of support for the Apple TV is a deliberate omission on Apple’s part.
When streaming music from an iOS device to the second-generation Apple TV, the track information will be displayed on screen in the same manner as playing content locally and all track navigation and playback controls can be used from the Apple TV remote.
iOS 4.2 also provides AirPlay controls on the multitasking dock. On the iPad the controls appear immediately to the right of the playback controls while on the iPhone and iPod touch a second swipe to the right will reveal a volume slider and AirPlay button. The AirPlay button will also appear on the device’s lock screen playback controls.
Note that unlike streaming from iTunes, you can only stream to one AirPlay destination at a time from an iOS device.
At this point, the only AirPlay device that supports video streaming is the second-generation Apple TV, and users will need to update to the latest Apple TV iOS version to add AirPlay video support—older Apple TV iOS versions will only provide audio streaming.
Videos can be streamed to the second-generation Apple TV from the built-in iPod, Videos and YouTube apps. As with streaming audio, an AirPlay button will appear beside the playback controls when watching a video. Tapping on the AirPlay button will allow you to choose a target AirPlay device to send your video and/or audio stream to.
As noted earlier, icons appear beside each device to indicate whether they support video and audio streaming or audio only. Note that you can stream the audio playback from a video to an AirPlay audio-only device—the video will continue playing back on your iOS device with the audio being sent to the remote AirPlay speakers.
When streaming movies and TV shows to the Apple TV they are displayed only on the Apple TV and not on your device’s screen. Basic playback controls can still be used on the iOS device and scrubbing through a video will actually display stills on your device’s screen and the Apple TV simultaneously to help you navigate. Access to chapter markers, subtitles and close captions must be done from the Apple TV remote instead. Background AirPlay video is also fully supported allowing you to exist the iPod or Videos app and perform other tasks on your iPod, or simply put the iPad to sleep and set it down while you watch the video on your Apple TV.
The built-in Photos app also supports AirPlay streaming to allow you to display photos on the second-generation Apple TV. An AirPlay button will appear in the top-right corner when viewing photos or playing a photo slideshow.
When simply viewing photos, the Apple TV will mirror whatever photo is currently displayed on your device’s screen, allowing you to simply share photos individually and navigate through them at your own pace. When playing a photo slideshow, the Apple TV will play back the slideshow along with transitions and any selected background music.
Despite much of the speculation surrounding AirPlay, the feature is presently restricted to playing Apple-supported video formats only. Essentially, AirPlay streams the raw, unencoded video files from your iOS device to the Apple TV, expecting the Apple TV to handle the decoding. This means that not all third-party applications are going to be able to natively support AirPlay; in particular those apps such as VLC and CineXplayer that play video formats that aren’t supported by Apple will need to encode their video into an H.264 stream on-the-fly in order to support AirPlay output, a processor-intensive task that may not even be practical on most current iOS devices.
This same limitation would also affect any applications that want to display their screen output on an Apple TV. AirPlay at this point is clearly designed for media output and not as a magic bullet for performing screen sharing or playing games on the big screen.
The other big announcement with iOS 4.2 was the addition of native printing support for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. The new feature, dubbed AirPrint, provides a central framework to print content to specific AirPrint-compatible printers.
AirPrint in iOS 4.2 is relatively straightforward. The built-in Mail, Safari and Photos apps now include AirPrint support and third-party apps have already begun to appear on the App Store adding AirPrint support as well.
To print the current e-mail from the Mail app simply tap the “Reply” button and a “Print” option will appear below the normal reply and forward buttons. The Print option in Safari can be found on the button that was previously used to create bookmarks and share pages, which has now been given a new icon.
In the Photos app you can either print a single photo from the photo screen or select multiple photos to print at the same time from the thumbnails screen in the same way as sharing multiple photos via e-mail. Each photo will be treated as an individual print job and printed on its own page, although AirPrint is clever enough to select the appropriate paper tray when an HP Photo printer is being used.
Once the print option is selected a second screen appears providing from which you can select a list of printers and choose a number of copies to print. A double-side option will also appear if your printer supports duplex printing.
Tapping the Print button from this screen will send the job to the selected printer. The AirPrint background process will be started and can be found in the multitasking tray, where you can view, suspend and cancel current print jobs.
Originally, iTunes 10.1 and Mac OS X 10.6.5 were supposed to add the ability to use AirPrint with any Mac- or Windows-shared printer, however this feature was removed at the last minute. Although third party tools are available to share printers on Mac OS X via AirPrint, this is not officially supported by Apple at this time. As a result, AirPrint is presently limited to a small number of HP eSeries printers. It is unclear whether Apple intends to add AirPrint support back into iTunes and/or Mac OS X in the future.
Other New Features
iOS 4.2 also includes several other smaller new features common to all iOS devices.
MobileMe and Find My iPhone
With the release of iOS 4.2 today Apple also announced that it would begin offering the Find My iPhone feature for free to owners of all current iOS device models—the iPhone 4, fourth-generation iPod touch and iPad. Users of these devices can sign up for the Find My iPhone feature simply by adding a new MobileMe account and logging in with their existing Apple ID or creating a new one.
When setting up a MobileMe account with a me.com or mac.com address, all of the paid MobileMe features will be available, including Find My iPhone. Users who do not have a paid MobileMe subscription can sign up with their Apple ID which will allow them to enable only this specific service.
Note that the Find my iPhone feature can only be enabled for a single account, and interestingly enabling Find my iPhone for a free Apple ID MobileMe account will disable synchronization of data from the primary MobileMe account. Of course, users who have a paid MobileMe account should have no need for the free Find My iPhone service as this feature still remains a part of the paid MobileMe service, but the exclusion of sync settings suggests that additional sync-related MobileMe features may come to the free MobileMe account in the future.
New Fonts in Notes
The Notes app, which has remained relatively unchanged since the original iPhone, gets a facelift in iOS 4.2 by allowing users to choose something other than Marker Felt as their font. A Notes section now appears in the Settings app allowing the user to choose either Chalkboard or Helvetica in addition to the default Marker Felt font.
As noted previously, Safari gets AirPrint support added and the bookmark/sharing button changes from a plus symbol to the standard iOS pop-up menu icon, adding the Print function to the menu previously used for adding bookmarks and sharing links via e-mail. The window selection button also now displays the number of additional browser windows that are currently open.
Safari in iOS 4.2 also now allows you to search the content of the current web page. This search is performed from the standard search dialog box, where an option now appears below all of the web search suggestions to find the entered text on the current page.
Tapping this option will begin a search in the current page, highlighting the first word or phrase found and providing a toolbar at the bottom of the screen to select the next match. On the iPad, a text field also allows you to enter a different search word or phrase.
New Text Tones
iOS 4.2 adds 17 new text message tones for iPhone 4 users and also introduces the ability to customize specific tones to be used on a per-contact basis. The new text tones are listed separately in a “New” section above the original six tones. Most of the new tones are considerably longer and more complex than the six original tones. The iPhone 3G and 3GS still provide only the six original tones, although users of the older iPhone models can still assign different tones to specific contacts.
Assigning a custom text tone to a contact is done in the same way as assigning a custom ringtone. Simply edit the contact and select a new tone from the “text tone” field.
Importing ICS Files into the Calendar
iOS 4.2 now allows users to import iCal-standard ICS files directly into the Calendar app. This works in much the same way as it does for vCard contact files—simply tap on an ICS attachment in an e-mail message and you will be shown the appointment as an invitation. You can then choose to add it to your calendar and select which calendar you would like it to appear in.
Imported ICS files are treated as event invitations. Oddly there does not appear to be any way to actually delete an imported ICS event directly from the iOS Calendar app.
iPhone Volume Control
With iOS 4.2 users can now choose to have the volume control buttons on the side of the iPhone only control the volume for normal audio rather than also controlling the ringer and alert volume. When the “Change with Buttons” option is disabled under Sounds, the ringer volume set on this screen will remain constant and the volume buttons will only change the volume for non-alert sounds such as music, in-game sounds and phone call volume.
iOS 4.2 makes some changes to the Restrictions settings on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Users can now restrict the ability to modify mail, calendar and contact account settings and location services settings and prevent users from deleting applications. Location could previously be disabled, however the new option allows additional flexibility by allowing a parent or corporate policy manager to pre-configure which applications are allows to access location services and then lock those down from any further changes.
A new Game Center restriction also allows adding of friends to be disabled separately from multiplayer game features. This will allow parents to create an approved friends’ list that can then be locked down while still allowing multiplayer games with existing friends.
Under allowed content several new countries have also been added to the content ratings: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Few changes have occurred in iOS 4.2 in terms of language, keyboard and region support from iOS 4.1, although obviously a number of additional countries were added in iOS 4.0 that will now be supported on the iPad as well.
In fact, the only noticeable change in iOS 4.2 is the addition of Swiss German and Tibetan keyboard layouts and the removal of the Emoji keyboard that was found in iOS 4.1. The available regions, languages and calendar formats remain otherwise the same as in iOS 4.1.
As previously reported iOS 4.2 makes a dramatic change to the Voice Memos icon on the iPhone and iPod touch, changing the design to mirror the icon from the sixth-generation iPod nano.
The Voice Recorder itself otherwise remains identical to previous versions, with only the icon having changed. Notably, the new icon looks particularly out of place compared to some of the other iOS icons that accompany it in the default “Utilities” folder.
The YouTube app has been updated slightly and now uses the new “like/dislike” rating method from the YouTube web site rather than assigning a one-to-five-star rating to a video.
The Messages app on the iPhone now includes a FaceTime button to quickly initiate a FaceTime call with the current contact.
FaceTime calls can also now be placed via Voice Control simply by specifying “FaceTime” and the contact name, and Bluetooth headsets are now supported for FaceTime calls.
Other Observations and Limitations
There are several other questions that our readers have been asking about iOS 4.2 over the past few weeks that are worth discussing.
Retina Display Apps
When the iPhone 4 was released with its 960×640 Retina Display, many wondered if these apps would automatically scale to a better resolution on the iPad. When this proved not to be the case it was assumed that the older iOS version running on the iPad may have been the limiting factor and that we might see an improvement when iOS 4 arrived on the iPad.
Sadly, this is not the case. Retina Display applications still present themselves as a blown-up 480×320 screen running in 2X mode on the iPad, although specific graphical elements do appear to render in higher resolution in some cases, the standard UI elements remain the pre-Retina Display versions. Universal or iPad-specific apps will still be required to take advantage of the higher-resolution iPad screen.
FaceTime on the iPhone
With the release of FaceTime for the iPod touch and Mac OS X, Apple introduced the ability to sign up for FaceTime with an Apple ID and e-mail address on these platforms since they lacked a phone number. At the time, FaceTime on the iPhone continued to use only the users’ cellular phone number to register with and place calls on the FaceTime network. Some hoped that iOS 4.2 would add the ability to also add an e-mail address to receive FaceTime calls on the iPhone, allowing users of multiple FaceTime platforms to only publish a single FaceTime contact address.
Sadly, nothing has changed regarding FaceTime on the iPhone. Users can toggle FaceTime on or off from within the “Phone” settings, but a registered and active cellular phone number is still required to use FaceTime on an iPhone 4.
Thus far iOS 4.2 appears to perform as well as iOS 4.1 did under similar conditions. Performance even on older devices such as the iPhone 3G is the same as iOS 4.1 and thus far we haven’t observed any significant changes in battery life. Performance with new features like AirPlay and AirPrint works reasonably well on those devices that support it, and Apple has widely chosen to exclude these features from certain older devices likely to maintain a reasonable level of performance.
Users of older iPod touch models will likely still find with iOS 4.2 that standby battery life is less than it was in iOS 3.x due to the persistent Wi-Fi feature in iOS 4. This has improved since iOS 4.0 but will likely never return to the way it was before iOS 4 since Wi-Fi now effectively remains on all the time so that push notifications and other network events can be received. Users of older iPod touch devices who choose to upgrade to iOS 4 will simply need to ensure that they recharge their devices at least every couple of days.
Update or Wait?
If you’re an iPad user, this is the update you’ve been waiting for since it finally brings all of the iPhone and iPod touch iOS 4 features to the iPad. There doesn’t appear to be anything here to recommend against this upgrade, and obviously the wealth of features like multitasking and home screen folders are a huge incentive to do so. Further, third-party developers have been working quickly to release updated versions of their apps that are compatible with iOS 4.2 on the iPad, so most users shouldn’t have any serious problems with most apps. That said, if there are apps that you specifically rely on it may be wise to wait until you’re certain these apps are compatible with iOS 4.2, as this upgrade is a big jump from the original iPad OS.
For iPhone and iPod touch users, the big new features are AirPlay and AirPrint, however both of these require other hardware that not every user is going to have at their disposal. If you’re an Apple TV or AirTunes user then the AirPlay feature is well worth jumping on this upgrade. AirPrint is definitely a much more niche feature due to the current lack of supported printers and the need for you and the printer to be on the same wireless network. There’s little reason not to upgrade for users of current iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod touch devices, however based on past and compatibility issues users of older iPhone and iPod touch models may want to take a “wait-and-see” approach.