Poor iPad customers. it feels like an eternity since the iPhone and iPod Touch gained multitasking with iOS 4, while owners of the tablet have been frozen in time with boring old iOS 3.
Fortunately, Apple’s iOS 4.2 is due for launch in November, and we got an early look at the new OS on the iPad.
Based on our hands-on testing with an early beta release of iOS 4.2, there’s plenty for iPad users to look forward to. Multitasking is even better on the media-rich tablet than on its smaller siblings, grouping apps into folders makes the entire tablet experience feel less inundating, and finally, the iPad will get a feature many of us have been demanding: wireless printing.
We couldn’t test all the new features due to the unavailability of some necessary hardware, but here’s a quick first look of what you’ll get with iOS 4.2 in a few months.
Multitasking on the iPad works the same as it does on the iPhone or iPod Touch: Hit the Home button twice and an app drawer pops up at the bottom of the screen. in the drawer, the iPad displays apps running in the background, and you tap an app to switch to it immediately with a feature called Fast App Switching. (See our explainer on mobile multitasking if you’re curious.) When switching between apps, the iPad is noticeably faster than the iPhone or iPod Touch, and boy is it buttery smooth. It’s not a brand new feature to iOS 4, but it’s the most important addition that iPad customers should anticipate.
If you’re still into killing trees and wasting ink, iOS 4.2 will introduce wireless printing to the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Apple claims that when this feature is fully working, you’ll be able to connect to a Wi-Fi network and wirelessly print from your device without installing any drivers. (Having wrestled with dozens of printers at my previous job, I am pessimistic about printing ever becoming this easy.) One major caveat: The printers have to be configured on your Mac or PC to share over a network, or the printer has to be compatible with AirPlay. Only HP so far has partnered with Apple to offer AirPrint-ready printers.
We weren’t able to test AirPrint because it requires a yet-to-be-released version of Mac OS X (10.6.5), and we don’t have one of those new HP printers. But we’ll keep you posted once we get a chance to try it out.
Perhaps the most intriguing new feature in iOS 4.2 will be AirPlay, a feature that allows you wirelessly stream media from your iOS device to an Apple TV or an AirPort Express. Picture this scenario: You’re watching Inlglourious Basterds on your iPad during your commute on the train, and mid-way through the movie you hop off and walk home. You want to finish the movie while you eat dinner, so you take your iPad, launch the movie, hit the AirPlay button and boom — you can stream it straight to your Apple TV and watch it on your big screen.
You can do the same with music and photos, so AirPlay basically turns your iOS device into a fancy multimedia remote. This feature has a lot of potential to become even more interesting if Apple eventually opens AirPlay to stream third-party content to your television. (Hulu or Pandora on my TV without adding more cables? yes, please.)
Again, the new Apple TV ain’t out yet, so we can’t give you a hands-on verdict yet, but we will as soon as we get that gear.