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.