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Hands-on With iOS 4.2 for iPad and iPhone

Apple has just released iOS 4.2 for the iPhone, iPod touch and the iPad.

iOS 4.2 is a pretty major release because it unifies the iOS platform. Until now, the iPad has had some of the same features as iOS for the iPhone and iPod touch — but has lacked others. Now all iOS devices are running the same version of the OS.

The update — which is free — hit iTunes about two hours ago. We’ve been testing iOS 4.2 for the iPad for quite some time and it’s great to have full iOS 4.0 features — like multitasking and a unified inbox — available on the larger device.

Apple has also added some iOS 4.2 specific features — namely AirPrint, AirPlay and a few tweaks and changes to the rest of iOS.

The iPad: Lots of New Stuff

Until the iOS 4.2 update, the iPad has lived in sort of an iOS 3 and iOS 4 hybrid world. Some iOS 4.0 features, like custom backgrounds and device orientation lock, first debuted on iOS for iPad. However, other features, namely multitasking, haven’t been available.

Multitasking is primarily useful when playing back video or music on the iPad. Not being able to surf the web while listening to Pandora (Pandora) was always frustrating, but after gaining that ability with iOS 4.0 for the iPhone, not having it on the iPad really hurt.

Fortunately, the feature is here and it works just as you would expect. The multitasking bar is similar to that of the iPhone, except it adds in brightness and volume controls, as well as an orientation lock and the ability to pause, and skip forward and backward in a music or video app.

Speaking of the orientation lock — much as we dislike the change — Apple has officially made the orientation lock button on the iPad into a mute switch. That means that in order to lock the orientation of the iPad, you need to double tap the home button and then swipe to your right and hit the lock button. It takes more time and annoys us, but at least the UI is consistent across devices.

Game Center is also here for the iPad, and a bunch of games have already been updated to take advantage of achievements, leader boards and dual-player action. You can use your same Game Center ID that you use on any other iOS device.

The Mail and Calendar apps have also received an update. The unified inbox from iOS 4.0 is here and Calendar for iPad now supports invitations and the new MobileMe Calendar protocol.

New For Everyone: AirPlay, AirPrint, Search Options

AirPlay and AirPrint were two of the big features Steve Jobs highlighted while showcasing the new additions to the iPod lineup.

AirPlay works with the Apple TV, the Apple AirPort Express and new AirPlay certified speakers to wirelessly send music and video from the iPhone or iPad to other devices in your home.

If you have an Apple TV, this means you can play video or share photos from your iPhone or iPad directly on the big screen. This is really easy and it’s super fast. You can then use the iPad or iPhone as a remote control for the content — if you want to scrub ahead — or you can use the regular Apple TV remote.

What’s nice is that because of the new multitasking feature, sharing video with the Apple TV doesn’t preclude you from surfing the web or jumping into e-mail or doing something else on your iOS device.

For music fans, if you have AirPlay compatible speakers, this basically makes your iOS device a little mini-Sonos (Sonos)-esque server. You can also send video or music from your Mac or PC to AirPlay devices, using iTunes.

Perhaps one of the most requested iOS features has been the ability to print natively from the device. To this end, Apple has almost given us the full solution, using AirPrint.

We say “almost” because there have been some last-minute changes made to how AirPrint and the AirPrint server work that makes the feature not quite as useful as it was originally touted.

As it stands, if you have an AirPrint compatible printer — right now limited to HP’s ePrint devices — you can easily print from any official OS app or from upated apps. However, the original goal was to let users print to any Wi-Fi printer on their network or to use iTunes as a print server (meaning as long as you had a computer running iTunes, you could print to a printer).

Other printer manufacturers are scrambling to add support for their devices — and some companies like Epson already have iOS printing apps in the App Store (App Store) — but this isn’t quite the seamless printing experience we were promised.

It’s not clear why the better printing functions were removed at the last minute; we assume it was because Apple felt the implementation was too buggy. Still, it’s disappointing to see printing that only works natively on a handful of devices.

Another new feature — minor, but nice — is the ability to search for words or phrases within a web page directly from the search button in Mobile Safari. In the past, you had to use a bookmarklet that would use JavaScript to do a “find in page” function, but having it built in is not only faster, but less clumsy for everyone.

You can see iOS 4.2 for the iPad and the iPhone in our walkthrough galler

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