The Apple mobile operating system's 4.2.1 release ships, with only one hitch.
After releasing two golden masters in preceding weeks that
turned out to be false starts, Apple made iOS 4.2.1 available on Nov. 22, and
the update to the company's mobile operating system is showing itself to be a
must-have upgrade for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and that goes double for the
iPad. It brings the capabilities and the user experience of the iPad up to a
level of functionality that iPhone users have had in their hands for five
months, and on both platforms, it showcases Apple's latest advancement of the
art of mobile computing.
The new release of iOS includes the AirPrint wireless
printing feature that initially will be available to few users as well as media
streaming features under the name of AirPlay, which will be useful for a
broader range of iOS device users. Apple also gave users an early Christmas
present in the form of free use of the Find My iPhone application for the iPad,
iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod Touch. The Find My iPhone app, which is
available for purchase by users of older iOS devices, will locate a device on a
map and allow the user to remotely display a message on it, play a sound, lock
the device or wipe it if the device is beyond physical recovery.
Installing iOS requires that the device-which can be an
iPad, an iPhone 3G or later, or recent models of iPod Touch-be synced with a
computer running iTunes 10.1; the download and installation time will vary for
users, but one can plan on it taking a half-hour to an hour, or perhaps longer
on slower links.
This release marks the first time that iPad users have had
access to the core iOS 4 features. Those include multitasking-the application's
state is saved, but alerts and notifications can be passed to the user-a wider
range of enterprise-grade device management and security technologies such as
Cisco's AnyConnect VPN client, and much broader language support, adding 25
additional languages, including Korean, Portuguese and Traditional Chinese.
So many of these features fit the category of "at last,"
but the quasi-multitasking will dwarf the others in importance for all but the
most controlled corporate deployments. Other features-such as folder-based
application organization, the Game Center, TV episode rental, text search on Web
pages displayed in Safari and the unified inbox with threaded message view-will
be valuable to a shifting range of users, depending on their interests and the
way they use their devices.
Perhaps the only disappointment I have with iOS 4.2.1 is
that Apple chose to pull some of AirPrint's functions at the last minute, by
removing the ability to print to a shared printer on a Mac running the very
latest update to Mac OS X, release 10.6.5, or to a Windows PC running iTunes.
Currently, a handful of newer models of HP inkjet and laser printers work with
AirPrint, but device manufacturers are catching up in a hurry. For example, the
day after iOS 4.2.1 became available, Electronics For Imaging announced the
release of PrintMe Connect, allowing iOS devices to print directly to EFI's
Fiery printers and multifunction peripherals, although as of Nov. 24, the page
for the printer software download featured a form requesting notification upon
the software's public release. More adventurous users will find details at Websites
of varying trustworthiness on how to activate the parts of AirPrint that are embedded
in Mac OS X 10.6.5, if they wish.
This release of iOS is a must-have-now for iPad users, who
will finally be able to take advantage of Apple's latest mobile OS; users of
the iPhone 4 and 3GS can expect a positive user experience as well from the
4.2.1 update. Although the last-minute restriction on AirPrint's usefulness is
disappointing, there might be a silver lining to that cloud: Printer
manufacturers would love to have an excuse to sell a few more printers between
now and the end of the year.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.