iOS 4.2 for iPad: What You Need to Know

iOS 4.2 for iPad brings long-awaited changes to the iPad that have been available on the iPhone for months. Here are some of the most notable things to expect when you update to iOS 4.2.

First, a new version of iTunes will be required to support iOS 4.2 on the iPad, version 10.1. Update your iTunes before you do anything else.

You’ll know version 4.2 is ready when you connect your iPad to your Mac (or PC) and look at iTunes under the Summary tab. (Of course, we’ll also alert you here at TMO news. But sometimes there’s a lag from the time the earliest customers see their update in iTunes until others see it — in what often seems to be a geographic, distributed roll out.)

Of course, before you do an update like this, you should back up your iPad.

iPS 4.2-1

iTunes, Summary Tab

The first thing you’ll notice after the update is that there isn’t much of a visual change to the Home screen. Many of the improvements are under the hood or not obvious until you go exploring or launch some apps. and that’s probably a comforting thing for many users. Here are most of the notable changes you’ll see in iOS 4.2.

General Changes

The first thing you may want to explore is the Home button and the new multitasking capability. Tap the Home button twice, quickly, and you’ll see the multitasking manager. Apps that have been previously launched will be displayed at the bottom and are in a kind of suspended, saved state, not running, but ready to resume at a moment’s notice. Just touch it to bring it back to life. To take advantage of this, apps will have to be written for or updated to iOS 4.2.

ios multi-taskmanager

iOS 4.2 Multitask Manager

More and more apps will accumulate in this bar over time as you run them, then switch to another app. You can leave these aliases there without much concern. However, if you really want to delete one, press and hold the icon. You’ll see the “minus” badge and you can click there to remove the app from its suspended state, quitting the app.. Don’t worry; this won’t delete the app itself — it just frees up the memory it was using.

In the same multitasking bar, if  you swipe to the right, you’ll see some new controls, widgets.  From left to right they are: the new software orientation lock, the new universal brightness slider, iTunes controls, and speaker volume. This is a great addition to the iPad iOS.

ios 4.2-2

The new software controls

Speaking of the orientation lock, the slider button on the side of the iPad that used to lock the screen orientation is now a mute button. No one is really sure why Apple didn’t give customers, going forward, a choice for what that button would do. It may have something to do with 1) the fact that muting is something one wants to do right away (click), while locking the screen can be done at a more leisurely pace (click, click, swipe, click) and 2) software and button commonality with the iPhone.

Also new to iOS 4.2 for the iPad is the ability to create folders and then group similar apps in those folders. Just drag one app onto the top of another, and iOS 4.2 will magically create a folder that contains both apps. It’ll also give it an appropriate name, but you can change that in the edit field that comes up in jiggle mode. If you want to later drag the app out of the folder, hold your finger on it, and when it starts to jiggle, drag it out of the folder.

ios 4.2-3

Folders. Note edit field for folder rename.

Under Settings -> General -> Keyboard is a new entry that allows you to turn off spell checking.

AirPlay and AirPrint

Two new, major technologies that are of immediate interest are AirPlay and AirPrint.

AirPlay is a technology that will allow you to stream video and photos on your iPad to a second generation Apple TV and other supported devices from selected vendors such as Marantz, Denon, JBL and Bowers & Wilkins and iHome.  Some apps will let you do that right away, but don’t expect every app to implement it. Even though there’s already a setting in the new (2G) Apple TV for AirPlay, (Settings -> General -> AirPlay -> On/Off), an update to its iOS will be required to support video streaming from, say, your iPad.

Why would you want to use AirPlay? A lot of Apple’s customers watch TV with an iPad in their lap to time share. It’s a lot easier to just transmit a movie from the iPad in your lap than to get up, go to another room, log onto a Mac, fire up iTunes, then go back to the Apple TV and select the movie to play (under the Computer tab). Of course, all you couch potatoes should do 100 pushups to make up for the exercise you didn’t get in the process.

ios airprint

Printing from Safari

AirPrint allows you to print from iPad apps to either special new printers that support the ePrint protocol such as the “HP Photosmart, Officejet, Officejet Pro and LaserJet Pro series ePrint enabled printers,” according to Apple. Also, if you have printer sharing turned on, (System Preferences -> Sharing -> Printer Sharing), Apple had previously said you’ll be able to access that printer with the Mac OS X 10.6.5 update. [Subsequently, Apple appears to have dropped that feature. Support for ePrint printers remains. Pending a full resolution, there are some remedies.*] To print, say, a Web page from Safari, click on the share button at the top, just to the left of the URL field. You’ll see a new Print option. If the iPad can see a printer, you can select it with “Select Printer.”


In iOS 4.2, you’ll be able to collect all your incoming e-mail into one unified inbox. You don’t have to do anything except click on the mailbox you now have selected at the top left of the Mail app and in the Mailbox popover, select “All Inboxes.”


Unified Inbox

There’s a new option in Settings -> General -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars that allows you, for the first time, to organize messages by thread. When a message is threaded, you’ll see a small grey badge next to the Inbox entry and an arrow inviting you to follow the thread. Just touch it.


Mail Threads (badge circled in red)

Safari, at last, allows you to search a Web page. Enter your search term in the Google search field at the top right. (Yes, that is a bit confusing) and click the “Search” key on the keyboard. At the bottom of the Google suggestions popover, you’ll see “On This Page” and your search term. Touch it and your word or phrase will be highlighted in yellow, and the page will zoom into the term. (You can un-zoom the page with the normal gesture if desired.) Now, look for the transparent bar at the bottom that allows you to find the next occurrence or enter a new search item.  It’s a bit of a kludge, but for now, it’s better than what we had.  Also, Safari’s open pages icon now shows a badge with the number of pages open.


Safari Search (search item at bottom of popover)

As with the iPhone, the new iPad apps will be able to run three different kinds of background threads: music, Voice over IP (VOIP), and location services. This means that, for example, VOIP apps can remain running in the background and alert you that a call is coming in.

Like the iPhone update, iOS 4.2 loads the Game Center app. Game Center allows you to play against friends on the Internet, or the Game Center will make suggestions for, perhaps, soon to be friends. Apple is already taking over the game market, according to Jonny Evans at Computerworld. He thinks the iPad could supplant the dedicated game consoles, and this is just one more step in that progression to boil the rest of the industry’s frog. (Which is a game in itself.)

Enhanced Enterprise Support

Apple is continually updating iOS to cater to the needs of business. Apple has the advantage of being the first to market with a modern tablet, but the competition is close behind and wants their tablets to be very easy for businesses to manage. A detail discussion of all that is beyond the scope of this article, but if you want to learn more, refer to Apple’s list of enterprise features or this excellent summary by Ryan Faas on “Managing and securing iOS 4 devices at work.

Administrators, and that can include parents, will be happy to see that a more comprehensive list of restrictions is now available. For example, an administrator can keep users from altering e-mail account settings, installing or deleting apps, viewing YouTube, and playing games. (Aw, shucks.) This is found in Settings -> General -> Restrictions.  


Enhanced administrative controls


The nice thing about iOS 4.2 is that many customers had a chance to become accustomed its predecessor, iOS 4.1, on the iPhone first, back in June. Even so, it seemed like an agonizingly long time for all this 4.x goodness to come to the iPad. Hopefully, this will be the only time the iPad and the iPhone get so seriously out of sync with each other.

Apps Ready for 4.2

Here are some apps that I found on my iPad that appear to be 4.2-ready. Their state is saved when you return to them.

AP News
Art Authority
Find iPhone
Life Browser
Nav Clock
NY Times
Shredder Chess
Sky Safari

Here are some apps that, as of Nov 18, did not appear 4.2-ready.

ABC News
ABC Player
Emerald Observatory
Mactracker (updated for MacBook Air, but not 4.2)


* UPDATE:  TMO has published a review of Printopia, a Preference Pane that allows printing from an iOS 4.2.x device to a printer connected to a Mac.