Thursday, November 25, 2010

Apple's iOS 4.2, In Brief

That updates to Apple's iOS, the software that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, are becoming both more frequent and more interesting than updates to its Mac OS is unsurprising. The company's core Mac business remains steady, but mobile devices are where the real money is.

To that end, Apple released iOS 4.2 earlier this week, an update responsible most notably for bringing iOS 4 features to the still-popular (and still-peerless, in the most literal sense of the word) iPad. For more information on what this entails, read my write-up on iOS 4 and its first major patch.

iPhone and iPod users, there's simply not much here to get excited about. Two major new features come with this release, neither of which should drastically alter how you use the device: the first, AirPlay, is an extension of iTunes' music sharing feature that allows your iThing to stream video or audio to your Apple TV, or to AirPlay-enabled speakers.

The second, AirPrint, was supposed to bring printing support to your device, but it was inexplicably crippled in the eleventh hour for as-yet-unexplained reasons. Instead of allowing printing to any printer connected to a computer on your wireless network, AirPrint as shipped can only print to a dinky list of recent HP printers with the feature built-in. We can only hope that the non-sucky version of this feature is revived and built back into the OS soon.

Notably, iPhone 3G users are missing most of these features. In exchange, they should see some modest speed improvements, Apple's latest effort to remedy what some would deem a lawsuit-worthy problem with the original iOS 4 release. Myself, I think that while Apple certainly wants you to buy a new phone, the iPhone 3G-iOS 4 fiasco was less the product of malicious intent and more the result of poor optimization and Apple's historic lack of interest in yesterday's products.

For iPad users, the software is more exciting - the ability to have multiple programs running at once makes the tablet a much more plausible replacement for a traditional computer, and the new Mail app is the only email program on Earth that I actually sometimes prefer to the regular Gmail interface. To say that iOS 4.2 makes the iPad feel like an entirely different device is stretching it a little bit, but it's not far from the truth.

So! Fire up iTunes and download the latest software update for your thingy! And then tell us how it makes you feel in the Comments section. And also happy Thanksgiving. (For those of you outside the US, happy regular day).