First Look: iOS 4.2 beta 1

iOS 4.1 is so last week. Along with Wednesday’s announcement of AirPrint came the first iOS 4.2 beta release for registered members of Apple’s iOS developer program. Of the two software updates, iOS 4.2 is arguably the bigger release: not only does it finally bring the features of iOS 4 (and iOS 4.1) to the iPad, but it also finally unifies Apple’s mobile software platform across its devices. Plus it actually brings a couple of new, prominent features along with it.

Macworld has taken a sneak peek inside the next version of iOS and brought you the lowdown on what you can expect when the update hits your device in November.

AirPrint

One of the biggest new features touted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his annual song-and-dance in September was the ability to print wirelessly from the iPad. As Apple announced on Wednesday, however, AirPrint will work one of two ways at launch: with a compatible printer from HP (and eventually, we presume, printers from other manufacturers) or with printers shared via your Mac or PC.

Unfortunately, we have neither one of those aforementioned printers nor the requisite software for testing shared printers (it requires Mac OS X 10.6.5) so we can’t regale you with tales of making printouts appear from our iPad as though by magic.

However, we can tell you that the print option appears in Safari, under the Share icon to the right of the Bookmarks button; in Mail, where it lives under the Reply button; and in Photos, where you’ll have to tap the Share button before you get an option to select and print pictures. Tapping print under any of these brings up a popover that asks you to select a printer by searching your network, and a control for selecting the number of copies.

Third-party developers will also be able to build in support for AirPrint into their own applications, finally bringing wireless printing to the masses.

AirPlay

One of the other major features that’s new in iOS 4.2 is support for AirPlay, a new-and-improved version of the AirTunes feature found in the current desktop version of iTunes.

With AirPlay, you’ll be able to stream media—for example, music or video—from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to any AirPlay-compatible device. Initially, AirPlay will work with only AirPort Express units (for audio) and the new Apple TV (for audio and video), although Apple is licensing the technology to other vendors to allow them to sell AirPlay-compatible products—speakers, receivers, and the like. (iHome is one of the first companies to announce an AirPlay product.)

Whenever you’re listening to music in an AirPlay-enhanced app—for example, the built-in iPod app—under iOS 4.2, you’ll see an AirPlay button. Tap this button, and any AirPlay-compatible devices on the same local network appear in a popover menu. Tap a device, and your media is streamed directly to it. (If you’ve ever used Apple’s Remote app to control iTunes on your computer, the process of choosing an AirPlay destination is similar to using the Remote app’s Speakers menu to choose an AirPort Express for streaming music.)

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