iOS 4.2, where iPhone meets iPad

Expected by week's end, the software update will have several promised new features, including wireless printing. It also means Apple's two mobile devices will now share the same platform.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
4 min read

For iPad owners envious of the iPhone's multitasking abilities, you won't have to covet any longer.

iOS 4.2--software that will update, improve, and repair a variety of features and bugs for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad--could be available by Friday. Steve Jobs said last month that it would arrive sometime in November, and this week the rumormongers are pointing to the end of the week for the day it will drop. The near final version of the software was released to developers last week, and Apple has already started accepting iOS 4.2-compatible apps.

Now, this isn't just another incremental update. iOS 4.2 is, at least from a development standpoint, an evolutionary step for the iOS platform, as it finally brings the iPhone and iPad in step with one another. Previously their OS releases were slightly out of sync, due to the iPhone software and hardware upgrades coming in summer and the iPad hardware and software getting introduced in April this year. With this upgrade the two will share the same software.

There are some significant updates iPad and iPhone users are each waiting for in this release, along with the expected minor improvements.

Here's a handy summary of what's expected in iOS 4.2:

This is a more polished version of AirTunes. With AirPlay, as Jobs described at a September press conference, you can stream audio, video, and photos over Wi-Fi to other devices on your network. That includes your iPhone, iPod, and iPad, but also Apple TV. The way Jobs described it, you could be watching a movie on your iPad, hit pause, turn on AirPlay, and pick up the movie right where it left off on your Apple TV.

Netflix, which makes iPhone and iPad apps, and is available on Apple TV, already does this even without AirPlay. But will AirPlay functionality work with other non-iTunes content? Either with music-streaming services like Pandora or Hulu Plus? We don't know if app makers will need to individually support AirPlay in their apps, or if it's included by default.

And where do apps fits in? Apple TV does not have App Store access--yet anyway--so being able to play games or open apps on a large screen TV via AirPlay would certainly increase the appeal of Apple TV in its current incarnation.

iOS 4.2 also brings the ability to print to any networked printer from an iOS device. AirPrint works over Wi-Fi, will automatically sniff out a printer on your network, and doesn't require any added drivers.

We do know that Apple has struck an agreement with Hewlett-Packard, which will enable all its newest printers to work with AirPrint.

This is a pretty big deal for iPad users. Apple has sold it as a productivity device, and pushed productivity apps, but provided no easy way to print directly from it. Of course the advent of AirPlay simultaneously cuts out several app developers who created apps to enable printing from the iPad.

Multitasking and more for iPad
iOS 4.2 brings the stuff that came to the iPhone in iOS 4 to the iPad. Yes, that means multitasking (the ability to run multiple apps simultaneously), folders for organizing apps, and Game Center access.

Apple has also added a way to adjust the brightness from within an app as part of the multitasking bar. Previously users would have had to leave whatever app they had open and dig through the device's settings menu.

The new multitasking bar for iPad.
The new multitasking bar for iPad CNET

There's also an update for 3G iPads: with 4.2 they will have the same higher signal bars at the lower end of the wireless spectrum released following Apple's iPhone 4 antenna press event.

The Great iPad Lock Switch Controversy
It sounds innocent enough, that iOS 4.2 will turn the slider on the top right corner of the iPad from a screen orientation lock to a mute button. But it's riled up some hardcore iPad users. They're not happy that what was once a simple flick of a button to keep the screen locked in landscape or portrait mode now requires pulling up the new multitasking bar, swiping to the left, and selecting the screen orientation lock.

The change adds more steps, but what it really does is make life easier for Apple since the switch's function will be consistent across the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch models now.

Speed boost for iPhone 3G
Scores of iPhone 3G owners were none too pleased with the iOS 4 update on their older model phones. Complaints poured in that their phones were freezing up when typing or scrolling, and the battery life plummeted. One iPhone owner has even sued Apple over the update's effect on her phone. But developers who've had access to the beta version of 4.2 say that it will return those affected 3G models to the speed they used to operate at before the 4.0 update.

Minor housekeeping for iPhone 4
As with any update, there are a bunch of small improvements planned, including options for new text alert sounds, new wallpaper for iPhone 4s, and added settings for Game Center.