Apple's iOS 4.2 finalized, sent to developers

Apple releases the golden master version of it's iOS 4.2 update, here's our preview.

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Yesterday, Apple released the golden master version of iOS 4.2 to developers. The update will be a particularly momentous one for the iPad, as it will mark the first time Ape's tablet gains the advances of iOS 4, which launched for iPhone and iPod touch users in June.

Apple is expected to make the update available to users sometime in the next two weeks. The last iOS update 4.1 shipped in September one week after the GM release while the first iteration of iOS 4 launched two weeks after developers got their hands on the final build in June. Golden master status means that this will be the final shipping version and developers are free to finish final testing of their apps with the release that users will run and submit updates to Apple's App Store.

What can iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch users expect from iOS 4.2? Here's a quick list of new features and changes for all iOS devices.

  • Hands down the biggest feature (particularly for the iPad) is the ability to print wirelessly to select printers using a feature called AirPrint. Currently only HP models that include HP's ePrint will support direct printing, though Apple says a local printer shared by a Mac or PC will also be supported by AirPrint. Unfortunately for schools and businesses, a missive from Steve Jobs recently confirmed that AirPrint won't allow printing to TCP/IP shared network printers (either directly or through server-based print queues)– an odd omission given how common network printing is in most organizations.

  • The new AirPlay feature was introduced in iTunes 10 and allows music or video to be output to a remote device like an Apple TV or stereos that support AirPlay. For iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches, AirPlay will act similar to Google TV's Fling. In early betas, a wide range of apps were supported for AirPlay output, but that appears to have been scaled back as builds progressed.
  • Additional fonts for the Notes app on all devices.

  • New parental control restrictions (which can also be used by companies for managed devices) are included such as the ability to prevent deleting applications, changing accounts associated with the device.

  • SMS FaceTime integration that will allow iPhone users to initiate a FaceTime call from the Messages app (not a huge feature, but a nice tweak).

  • YouTube Like/Dislike button.

  • Possible MobileMe and Apple IDs account combination. It isn't clear what this is about, but the new account option for Apple's Mobile Me service no lists the option to use or create an Apple ID account (currently used by Apple for iTunes purchases/rentals, FaceTime calls by email on the iPod touch and FaceTime for Mac, and for membership login to Apple's developer programs). This could mean that Apple will be making some Mobile Me features available for free (perhaps some basic iOS device syncing?) or simply that the company wants to encourage users to consolidate their Apple ID accounts with their Mobile Me accounts.

For the iPad, the changes also include:

  • iOS 4's multitasking (with a new multitasking toolbar that include brightness and remote AirPlay volume controls).
  • Access to Apple's online multiplayer Game Center (which could be huge for a range of iPad games).

  • Folders for organizing apps. This will work the same as on the iPhone and iPod touch, but will folders on the iPad can store 20 apps instead of 12.

  • The iPad's physical lock orientation button becomes a hardware mute button. Despite some user criticism about the change and hope for a setting to toggle the use of the button, Steve Jobs has made it clear that this will be a permanent change and not adjustable.

  • Larger fonts and the ability to disable the built-in spell check are being added

  • A universal inbox with the option to view messages as threads (already available in other iOS devices). This was a big complaint of the iPhone from day one and was greatly welcomed in June. It will certainly improve the Mail app on the iPad as well (perhaps more given the larger format of Mail on the iPad)

  • Developers will be able to include advertising from Apple's iAd framework in iPad apps.

  • Finally, there's the upgrade enterprise management features, which may not be a major concern for most consumers, but will certainly boost the iPad's business and enterprise pedigree (making it the most manageable tablet available outside of Windows 7 devices until RIM's PlayBook ships).

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfass.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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