Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the release of iOS 4.2 makes the iPad “a completely new product,” and I have to agree with him. When Apple’s tablet was running iOS 3.2, there were many irritating limitations, but most of these were taken care of with the operating system upgrade that was released yesterday.
I installed the new version on my iPad as soon as I could, and quickly began testing it. So far, I have generally positive things to say. There are a number of new features and other enhancements that significantly improve the way this tablet works, but there’s still room for improvement.
Be aware, this isn’t a review of the iPad. If you are new to this device, you should start by reading TabletPCReview’s in-depth reviews:
First off, I know there are some lingering worries that iOS 4.2 will have problems with Wi-Fi, as this upgrade was delayed for over a week because of a Wi-Fi bug in one of the beta versions. Apple must have fixed this, because in my testing I’ve had no problems connecting to two separate access points.
iOS 3.2 was limited to running one app at a time, something that often made using the iPad something of a hassle. Thankfully, with iOS 4.2 that’s no longer an issue.
You can now switch between apps at any time by double-clicking the Home button to bring up a row of icons at the bottom of the screen for currently running applications. Tapping one of them will bring it to the fore.
You can close one of these background apps by tapping and holding on its icon. All the icons in the list will get a red “minus” mark, and tapping on any of them will close it.
I find this system easy to use, and I’m very pleased to finally be able to quickly switch between tasks without constantly having to return to SpringBoard, the app launcher.
I’m not running into problems with background apps affecting the performance of the foreground one by taking up too much system resources because of Apple’s system for handling them. Apple iOS 4.2 limits the number of things that apps can do when they aren’t in the foreground. Streaming audio services like Pandora, or VoIP ones like Skype, continue to function in the background, and software is also able to finish tasks like uploading pictures or video to Facebook in a similar fashion. Aside from this, though, most functions stop. The apps don’t close, but they freeze in place.
The only complaint I have about this system is that it means that large webpages won’t download in the background. Other than that, it works fine.
Another feature many people are excited about in iOS 4.2 is the addition of folders in the application launcher.
Previously, the only way to organize software on the iPad was to create different screens for different groups of app icons, and then move through them to get to the one you want.
The new version of the OS lets you create folders in the SpringBoard app launcher, where you can store apps. Icons can be moved in and out of folders in the same way they are moved to different screens: tap and hold, then drag and drop.
Folders show small versions of the icons for the apps that are stored in them, and they can be placed in the dock.
This is a blessing for people who have many apps, and for those who want their iPad to act a bit more like a Mac or PC. If you prefer, you can now get by with just one screen with folders for Games, Productivity, Internet, etc.
If you prefer the old system, you don’t have to do anything with app folders at all.
An Improved Inbox
Those of you who, like me, use your iPad for both work and personal reasons should be happy that iOS 4.2 adds the ability to synchronize with multiple Exchange ActiveSync servers.
For me, this means that I can now use Google’s push email system as well as my company’s. Previously, I was limited to one or the other.
My calendar now shows both work and personal events, and my address book has entries from both sources. And don’t worry, the data is not merged and re-synchronized so that, for example, your personal address book gets populated with your work contacts. Data from the different sources is kept separate, it’s just displayed together.
The new unified inbox displays messages from a variety of services, like Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe and Yahoo. You can switch between messages from different sources, or list them all together.
You can also reply to calendar invitations now, which is handy.
Find My iPad
One of the surprise features in iOS 4.2 is that Apple’s Find My iPad feature is now available for free. This lets you easily locate a missing device on a map and have it display a message or play a sound. Users can even remotely lock or wipe data from your iPad to protect your private information.
For this to work, the iPad has to have an Internet connection, so it might be of limited usefulness if you are trying to find your lost tablet in an airport. But it should be very useful for helping you find your misplaced device at your home or office.