If you're an iPhone user, you'll find the just-released iOS 4.2 a solid, mildly useful new system update. There's nothing earth-shaking here, and nothing as significant as the multitasking features and folders that iOS 4.2 adds to the iPad.
Still, features such as Find My iPhone and the ability to search for text on Web pages in Safari will be welcomed by every iPhone owner, even if those extras won't mean a major change in the way you use your phone.
Find My iPhone
AirPlay and AirPrint, which I discuss below, will get much of the publicity with this new release, but for the absent-minded and the security-minded (like me), one of the niftiest aspects of the upgrade for iPhone users will be the Find My iPhone feature, which is now available even for those who don't currently use MobileMe. (It will only work on iPhone 4, the fourth-generation iPod Touch and the iPad.)
As you would guess from its title, Find My iPhone helps you locate your device if you misplace it. But it does more than that -- it also lets you remotely lock your iPhone, wipe it, display a message or play a sound on it.
The service is available through MobileMe, but you can turn it on even if you're not a paying subscriber. Add a MobileMe account by tapping Mail, then tapping MobileMe. Enter the Apple ID and password you use with the iTunes store. That will set up a MobileMe account for you.
With that done, turn on Location Services on your iPhone by tapping the Settings app, then tapping General --> Location Services, and tapping to turn it on (if it's not on already). Your iPhone will find your location in the same way it usually does, either via GPS or through the less-precise method of using nearby Wi-Fi hot spots.
Now turn on the Find My iPhone service itself. From the Settings screen, tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars; then tap MobileMe, and in the Find My iPhone section, tap to turn it on.
Once you've done that, the service is up and running. If you misplace your phone, head to Me.com. You'll be shown the location of your phone on Google Maps. Tap the little arrow next to the location, and a screen appears that lets you lock the phone, wipe it, display a message or play a sound.
This is great not just for security purposes, but for finding your phone in your own home. Your iPhone will make a sound even if it's locked or in silent mode, so if you misplace it around your house, use Find My iPhone and then just follow the annoying sound.
By the way, when you set up your free MobileMe account, you won't get MobileMe e-mail. If you want that service, it will still cost you a $99 annual fee.