Review Roundup: The Buzz About iOS 4.2

By  Martha Walz — November 30, 2010

Apple launched iOS 4.2 last week, bringing new capabilities to the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. In addition, iOS 4.2 adds functionality for the iPad that previously had been available only on the iPhone and iPod touch. But does iOS 4.2 make the iPad "a completely new product" as claimed by Steve Jobs when announcing the new operating system? Read on to see what's new in iOS 4.2 and if it indeed lives up to the hype.
The most noteworthy features of iOS 4.2 are the addition of multitasking and folders on the iPad, improvements in the e-mail application, and the unification of the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch so that all are running on the same OS.
"The arrival of iOS 4.2 will be most significant for iPad users who have been stuck using an older, more limited version of iOS," explains Michael deAgonia of Computerworld. "iOS 4.2 delivers some features more typical to full-featured computer operating systems. Numerous software tweaks and improvements result in a much more polished user experience for iPad owners and will likely spur even faster enterprise adoption."
"The addition of multitasking, folders, and big improvements in mail (amongst other things) finally make the [iPad] feel more like a computer and less like a gigantic iPhone," agrees Joshua Topolsky of Engadget. "It represents a major change for the platform."
But not all reviewers agree.
"Apple's update of iOS 4 brings some nifty--if somewhat limited--new features," says Preston Gralla of Computerworld
"iOS 4 will add useful functionality that will make your device more useable than ever," says Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica. "There are, however, some obvious downsides."
Multitasking on the iPad
Previously only available on the iPhone and iPod touch, iOS 4.2 brings multitasking to the iPad. It is not multitasking in the true sense, however, and is limited to audio, VoIP, location, local notifications, the completion of tasks, and fast app switching. Apps cannot grab new updates when running in the background.
"iPad does an excellent job of handling multiple apps; we had no trouble running our favorite apps and switching between tasks with no break in the action," says Engadget's Topolsky
"Apple's own apps have always been able to truly multitask (you can get iCal alerts while playing a game, for example, or listen to music from the iPod app while reading a webpage)," explains Ars Technica's Cheng. "But third parties can now take advantage of a limited set of multitasking capabilities in order to make things easier on the user."
Not all reviewers were impressed, however.
"One downside is that you can no longer program the double-clicking of the Home button to do anything else--this functionality is now reserved solely to access the app drawer," continues Ars Technica's Cheng. "That said, it eventually becomes second nature, and the benefits generally outweigh the losses."
"Though I don't like Apple's implementation of multitasking--the tendency to build up a tray full of rarely-used apps drives me insane, and background processing is limited to a few specific tasks--on the iPad it's an essential feature," agrees Jared Newman of PCWorld.
Folders on iPad
The iPad now features folders for apps. Dragging and dropping apps on top of one another creates a folder. Folders keep apps organized in any way users choose and help to declutter the home screens. Users can have up to 20 folders per screen with 20 apps in each folder on the iPad.
"Folders are an especially notable inclusion here due to the pure silliness of scrolling through multiple iPad pages, and we're happy to see them intact on the bigger device," says Topolsky of Engadget.
"Having folders to organize the endless grids of apps is a long overdue welcome addition," agrees Scott Stein of CNET
"One little detail I like about folders is the way that it handles number badges," explains Cheng of Ars Technica. "Any app within a folder that displays a number badge--say, unread items in Mail--will also have its badge displayed on the folder icon. [However,] it's not very good for people who have a visual memory: most folder icons look the same (and you can't set an icon for a folder), so if you're looking for a specific icon that happens to be buried somewhere, things can get frustrating."
AirPrint was one of the most hyped features of iOS 4.2; a next-generation Wi-Fi print architecture, it simplifies printing by completely eliminating printer drivers. iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch users can simply tap to print their documents or photos wirelessly to any printer that supports AirPrint. Unfortunately, an extremely limited number of printers supports AirPrint. The total tally--for the moment--stands at 11 printers, all from HP
"If you use one of those printers, you're in luck," explains Computerworld's deAgonia. "If not, then for the time being, you're better off using the apps from print manufacturers found in the App Store. While not everyone will be able to use AirPrint right away to print directly to a printer, it's a forward-looking feature that will grow in importance as more printer manufacturers catch on and adopt Apple's standard. Third parties will also need to update their apps to use the new feature."
"AirPrint...worked out of the box as expected (we tested here with an HP Photosmart Premium C310, an AirPrint compatible device)," explains Engadget's Topolsky. "We were able to print directly from a number of apps on the iPad with little to no trouble--a joy considering what a roadblock this has previously been. We're hoping that there's a big push for printer manufacturers to bring their devices up to speed with this feature. It would be a shame to have to shell out for a new printer in order to use AirPrint."
Some reviewers were disappointed with AirPrint beyond the limited printer support.
"Unfortunately, a highly anticipated feature of AirPrint is missing--the ability to wirelessly send a print request to your Mac or PC, and then have the computer print to any printer available to it," says Computerworld's Gralla. "This would have made this feature far more useful. So for now, at least, AirPrint sounds nice in theory but will be rarely used in practice."
AirPlay was another of the much-hyped new features in the new OS. It allows users to wirelessly stream digital media from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch directly to an Apple TV or AirPlay-enabled speakers.
"AirPlay is intriguing, although you'd need an Apple TV to take advantage of its potential," explains CNET's Stein.
Reviewers who did have an Apple TV were pleased with the functionality.
"We only had the Apple TV to test with, but in general, this feature works as advertised and should make for a handful of experiences that you probably didn't know you needed in your life, but now won't be able to live without," says Topolsky of Engadget.
"It could be useful if you've managed to capture or download video you'd like to see on the big screen instead of the very small screen," agrees Gralla of Computerworld
Find My iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch
Previously only available with a $99/year MobileMe subscription, Find my iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is a feature that helps users locate their missing device and protect its data. It is now available for free on any iPhone 4, iPad, our fourth-generation iPod touch running iOS 4.2. Users can find their lost device on a map, display a message on its screen, remotely set a passcode lock, and initiate a remote wipe to delete their data. And if the user eventually finds the device, the data can be restored from the last backup from the user's computer.
The forgetful will also benefit from this new feature.
"For the absent-minded and the security-minded (like me), one of the niftiest aspects will be the Find My iPhone feature," explains Computerworld's Gralla. "This is great not just for security purposes, but for finding your phone in your own home. Your iPhone will make a sound even if it's locked or in silent mode, so if you misplace it around your house, use Find My iPhone and then just follow the annoying sound."
E-mail upgrades
iOS 4.2 on iPad supports multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts and works with Exchange Server 2010. It also features a unified inbox so users can see messages from all of their e-mail accounts in a single inbox, or they can quickly switch between inboxes to see messages from a single account. In addition, users can now open attachments in third-party apps directly from the e-mail message.
"We've been having a love affair with the iOS 4 Mail changes since we first played with the iPhone 4, but the utility of some of this stuff is really pronounced on the iPad," says Engadget's Topolsky.
"Threaded, unified mail inboxes are, needless to say, time-saving," agrees Stein of CNET
"Even if you don't regularly touch the iPad's Mail app, iOS 4.2 adds one killer feature in the ability to open attachments in third-party apps," explains PCWorld's Newman. "I was delighted to see that office documents can already be opened in Office2 HD for editing or saving to Google Docs."
Ars Technica's Cheng agrees. "This is certainly a welcome feature, especially for those who would prefer to use a better piece of software from the App Store to manipulate photos or read PDFs."
Find text on Web pages
New in iOS 4.2, users can now do a quick text search in Safari, Apple's Web browser, to find and highlight words and phrases on any Web page.
Reviewers generally liked this new functionality.
"It works well and the ability to move through the searched words or terms is relatively clean and useful," says Topolsky of Engadget.
Enhanced enterprise support
Businesses can take advantage of the enhanced enterprise support built into iOS 4.2. Stronger security features, new device management capabilities, and improved enterprise integration are the top new features of the updated OS.
"IT staffers will like the additional built-in management capabilities that allow them to better secure iPads in the office," says Computerworld's deAgonia.
The new features include:
Data protection--iOS 4.2 enhances security to protect e-mail messages and attachments stored on an iPad by using the device passcode as an encryption key. Data protection APIs enable custom and commercial apps to protect business-critical information even if the device is compromised.
Wireless app distribution--iOS 4.2 on iPad enables enterprises to securely host and wirelessly distribute their own in-house apps to employees over Wi-Fi and 3G. Apps can be updated without requiring users to connect iPad to a computer.
SSL VPN support--In addition to WPA2 Enterprise Wi-Fi, and IPSec, iOS 4.2 supports SSL VPN on iPad, giving users another way to securely access enterprise resources. These protocols can be leveraged to connect seamlessly to a corporate network via VPN On Demand. Juniper and Cisco have announced apps coming soon to support SSL VPN on iOS devices.
Looking to the future
While iOS 4.2 is generally seen to be a great new OS, especially for the iPad, there are still some features that reviewers would like to see in the next version of the OS.
"Updating iOS devices through iTunes on a PC is a chore on par with defragmenting your hard drive," says PCWorld's Newman. "The whole process can take more than a half hour. Put over-the-air updates on the top of your iOS 5 wishlist."
CNET's Stein is also very specific as to what he would like to see in the next version.
"Split-screen apps. I'm still waiting to be able to use Mail and Safari side-by-side, or a word-processing app and a reference app. Exiting and re-entering apps is speedier with multitasking, but it's still no replacement for the windows you can take advantage of on a regular computer," he says.
He would also like to see pop-up apps. "The iPad has no native calculator, but it sure would be great to call one up in a pop-up whenever necessary when, say, working on an invoice," he explains. "A pop-up weather app, and similar widgets, would be great time savers."
"Obviously the iPad has been seriously in need of a shot in the arm when it comes to software," says Engadget's Topolsky. "Giving developers the tools present in iOS 4 with this update is clearly a big win for the device, and we expect to see a lot of creative uses for all those new APIs that have previously been reserved just for the small screens in Apple's mobile life. Of course, the iPad (and iOS in general) are still lacking some of the killer changes that we so badly would like to see (non-obtrusive notifications and a dashboard-like widget system come to mind), but what Apple has added here puts the iPad much, much closer to the netbook-chomping beast we always felt it could be."
"Clearly, the line between mobile devices and computers is becoming increasingly blurry," says Computerworld's deAgonia. "But there are still some features that Apple has yet to implement that would build on iOS 4.2 and make the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch even more useful. In particular, I'd like to see custom alert sounds, quick-reply from message notifications, the ability to delete phone log entries individually, the ability to use the iPhone and iPad as external hard drives, and a unified notifications area. I'm hoping those features get some attention with the next big release of iOS." 


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