Apple's iOS 4.2 a 'milestone' update for iPad, iPhone

The OS update offers new features that will be welcome at work and at home

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For the moment, AirPrint works with the following printers:

  • HP Photosmart Premium Fax e-All-in-One Printer - C410
  • HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One Printer series - C310
  • HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer series - B210
  • HP Envy 100 e-All-in-One Printer Series - D410
  • HP Photosmart eStation Printer series - C510

If you use one of those printers, you're in luck. If not, then for the time being, you're better off using the apps from print manufacturers found in the App Store. (A feature once touted for iOS 4.2 -- being able to print to a printer connected to a Mac or PC -- was dropped before the update was released.) While not everyone will be able to use AirPrint right away to print directly to a printer, it's a forward-looking feature that will grow in importance as more printer manufacturers catch on and adopt Apple's standard. Third parties will also need to update their apps to use the new feature.

AirPrint is a new feature
iOS 4.2 offers a new, but still limited, range of wireless print options.

AirPrint, when available, is located under the Option arrow button found in iOS apps on the iPad such as Mail, Photos and Safari. After tapping the button, you can choose the destination printer, number of copies and advanced features such as duplex printing for single- or double-sided output. Note: Print Center -- the print queue manager -- is accessible only through the multitasking bar, and it's available only when printing is in progress.

In addition to the limited number of printers supported, there's another catch: AirPrint works only on iOS devices that support multitasking. This includes the iPad, the iPhone 4 and 3GS, and the third- and fourth-generation iPod Touch.

AirPrint offers the promise of easy printing over wireless networks, something I expect to be popular in the workplace environment. While only a handful of printers support the standard out of the box, it's a start.

Final thoughts

Apple has made enormous strides with iOS in the past few years, and iOS 4.2 delivers some features more typical to full-featured computer operating systems. In addition to those already mentioned, iOS 4.2 offers new MIDI support that allows musicians to connect keyboards and synthesizers -- through the dock connection or wirelessly -- to iOS devices. This will be popular with musicians who use Apple's iOS devices, though it's not something I've tried.

Clearly, the line between mobile devices and computers is becoming increasingly blurry. But there are still some features that Apple has yet to implement that would build on iOS 4.2 and make the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch even more useful. In particular, I'd like to see custom alert sounds, quick-reply from message notifications, the ability to delete phone log entries individually, the ability to use the iPhone and iPad as external hard drives, and a unified notifications area. I'm hoping those features get some attention with the next big release of iOS.

Even so, iOS 4.2 is a welcome update that builds upon what Apple started with the original iPhone. Each iteration rolls out useful new features and routine improvements. During my testing, I didn't encounter any apps that crashed or refused to launch. That kind of stability -- and the awesome AirPlay technology -- inspires confidence in recommending the free upgrade.

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is an award-winning writer, computer consultant and technologist who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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