Apple's iOS4.2 adds more than just AirPlay, AirPrint

The mobile OS update delivers a slew of lesser-known features

Apple last week finally released the update to its iOS software for mobile devices like the iPhone and the iPad. And while the big changes -- AirPlay, AirPrint and iPad-focused tweaks -- got a lot of attention, there are a slew of smaller changes and improvements that users will appreciate in iOS 4.2.

Here's a look at a few of those that might have gotten lost in the pre-Thanksgiving holiday shuffle.


The mobile version of Apple's WebKit-based Safari browser is included on all of the company's mobile devices. Currently, more than 100 million users surf the Web with a WebKit browser -- in addition to Apple, Google, Nokia and RIM also use WebKit -- and Apple is using the browser foundation's popularity to influence future Web technologies. Specifically, it's pushing the adoption of open standards such as HTML 5 and h.264, hoping to diminish the role of Adobe's Flash.

The new version of iOS 4 includes enhancements to Safari that set the stage for new ways for mobile devices to interact with the Web. For example, accelerometer-based actions -- such as the ability to control or manipulate objects by tilting your iPhone or iPad -- have been available to developers of mobile apps for a couple of years now. But with the latest update, these abilities are now being rolled out to the mobile Web. Using the new DeviceOrientation API, programmers such as Maximiliano Firtman have created proof-of-concept demos that allow interactive Web content -- in this case, a demo of a ball being rolled around and controlled by tilting the device. This action relies on data from device accelerometer or gyroscope sensors to add another layer of interaction with Web apps and sites, without relying on plug-ins.

It's clear that the updates to Safari in iOS 4.2 -- in concert with WebSockets, HTML 5 forms, AJAX 2 and support for AirPrint -- mean Apple fully intends to embrace the open Web on mobile browsers, even if that means the ultimate demise of Flash.

Accessibility improvements

Apple has long prided itself on making devices that are easy to use, whether you're a 2-year-old, a great-grandparent or a person living with disabilities. Now in iOS 4.2 it's offering a couple of features designed to make using iPads and iPhones better for people with vision problems.

The first feature is called Large Text; it can be found in Settings/General/Accessibility. This option does exactly what it says: It makes text larger in apps such as Notes, Mail and other supported programs. You can select text sizes ranging from 20 point to 56 point, which means you don't have to use the Zoom accessibility feature when trying to read text within those apps. The advantage of Large Text over Zoom is obvious: The Zoom option increases the size of everything on the screen, which can make reading annoying, since you have to constantly scroll side-to-side to see complete sentences.

Large text option
Large Text increases the text size in apps such as Notes and Mail.
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