iOS 4.2 is here! Kind of.

This is one of those things that quite rightly annoys Apple’s critics. They can make valid and productive complaints about the limitations of their hardware — particularly their iOS devices — and Apple really has no way to respond.

…Except to update the OS, which is what they’d planned all along.

Here’s the anticipated 4.2 update to the iPad’s OS. Now it multitasks and can print directly from the device. I’m certain that we can all expect a flurry of new reviews and blog posts that humbly say “I know I dismissed the iPad as a silly, trendy toy back in April. But now, obviously, I have to admit that the iPad is absolutely wonderful. After all, I only listed two real shortcomings, and now Apple’s addressed both of them.”

Which isn’t to say that the iPad only had two problems. But Lord, to hear these commentators talk you’d think that they believe we should allow the white rhino to go extinct. “They’re completely useless,” one reviewer says. “Look at the size of those horns. Don’t tell me there wasn’t any room for an SD card reader. If these animals had been created by Google, you could just customize it yourself, but nooooo. God just doesn’t get it. And still, billions of people worship Him like He’s some sort of…”

(I’m checking iTunes again. Nope, iTunes tells me there’s still an hour left to go on my download. Damn and blast.)

Multitasking on the iPad is a clear Win, though as with the iPhone most of the Win comes specifically from the speed with which you can now switch between apps, and the ability to stream music from third-party apps. “Multitasking” clearly has a different meaning in a one-screen interface.

Printing is another nice new feature, though it won’t be quite as fab as we’d hoped, nor as fab as it’ll be in a future release. The original idea was that the iPad would just find and use any available file server. Nope, that’s been delayed. iOS 4.2’s printing feature only works with devices that support the iPad’s network printing scheme. Still, as someone who recently found himself in a hotel room thinking “If I could print directly from my iPad, I wouldn’t be here trying to think of Something Clever” I’m happy to see that problem go from a No to a Maybe.

(Yes, I know there are third-party apps that promise direct printing. But they’re unreliable, and frustrating as hell. I’d much rather have a feature like AirPrint that will definitely work if you have the right printer, than a third-party app that’s supposed to be compatible with all printers but may or may not actually function when the time comes, depending on whether or not the app approves of the color of the drapes in the room.)

(39 minutes to go. Hey, cool…it jumped at least ten minutes!)

AirPlay is the response to everyone who sees a range of Apple devices in someone’s house and assumes that the owner is a brainwashed cultist. There’s a downside to investing your faith and consumer bucks in the Apple infrastructure, but it’s overwhelmed by the positive: this stuff all works together. And the new thing that comes out a year from now will also work well with all of this stuff you’ve already got. In…

…35 minutes, plus or minus, I’ll be able to stream any media I want from any notebook, desktop, iPhone, or iPad to my AppleTV. Unlike other solutions for other devices, it’ll just plain work. Why? Because the same company designed all of the hardware and controls the OS that powers ’em all, and this company is clearly on our side.

Amid iOS 4.2’s other bibs and bobs is one real drawback for iPad users. Unfathomably, the Rotation Lock switch is now a Mute switch. You need a dedicated switch like that one on a phone. You might be in the middle of a funeral and suddenly regret that you chose “Butt Shaker” as your ringtone, to name but one example.

But when you’re using an iPad, the desire to prevent the screen from rotating (again) (goddammit) is just as urgent and spontaneous. Right now, with iOS 3.x, if I’m holding it at a slightly awkward angle and the iPad keeps autorotating on me, I reach up and flip a single switch. In…

…23 minutes, I’ll have to double-tap the Home button to reveal the taskbar, swipe left to reveal the widgets, tap the Rotation Lock button, and then tap the Home button again to get back to what I was doing.

It’s utter nonsense. I predict that soon there’ll be a new System Pref that allows you to choose the function of the lock button.

But all of this is academic because I still have…

…20 minutes before the download is complete and the installation begins.

I read the announcement this morning. iOS 4.2 became available to my copy of iTunes a few hours later. For a solid thirty minutes, I kept the iPad plugged in and clicked the “Check For Updates” button every 30 seconds, waiting for a download slot to open up.

Honestly, I was like one of those pathetic losers at a casino, chain-smoking and numbly tapping the buttons on a video poker machine. The only difference was that Jay Leno wasn’t over in the next room doing his standup.

11 thoughts on “iOS 4.2 is here! Kind of.

  1. Murphy Mac

    Not too hard to picture Andy in a casino. Gambling, serving drinks, dealing, on stage with Celine Dion….maybe even as part of Danny Ocean’s crew…

    Streaming video from native video app on iPad – no problem. Video podcasts work too. Running a twit podcast in the background on the iPad, looks good.

    Stream photos from native photo app, but not video.

    Can’t stream from ABC app or VLC. Expected ABC to work, not VLC.

    Totally expected to be able to stream video from camera roll and albums in native photo app.

    If VLC finds a way to use the Apple api it’ll save me some Eye TV encoding.

  2. Jim Horn (@jdhorn)

    Wow, I saw your tweet about the slow download and immediately plugged my iPad into my laptop. Like everyone else, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this. 12 minutes later it was downloaded and installing. It’s done now, so I’m playing.

    Too populous around your area, Andy! You should move up here to Canada!

  3. Mike

    The volume switch is a unique animal now. It is just a toggle and the volume rocker overrides it. Whether in the up or down position it is impossible to tell if the device is muted or not. This would seem to be a bug but perhaps not. Also, if you hold the volume down rocker, it still silences the device but, as you don’t the the speaker with the slash through it, it is not muted.

    If they are going to make a mute switch, it should be a mute switch and not just a toggle so that when you look at the device, you can tell if it is muted without having to unlock the device, and see if it is muted. That’s if you actually want it to be a mute switch. I don’t. I want it to be an orientation lock. I really hope, Andy, that you’re right and they make this a system preference in a future update.

  4. Chris Badali

    you can use AirPlay to watch video from but it takes some maneuvers for some reason. Start the video, and double tap the home button, go to where the orientation lock is and click the airPlay button there and…voila…you video from your iPhone or iPad will play on your Apple TV.

  5. Murphy Mac

    Christ Badali –

    Did you try that on an iPhone? My 3GS doesn’t show an Airplay button where you’re talking about. Not upgrading my iPhone 4 today. Will try that on my iPad shortly. It’s upgrading again.

    I tried that same thing you’re talking about on the ABC app and it didn’t work. But didn’t try it with videos.

    I guess the ABC app would chew up a lot of wireless bandwidth to send and receive simultaneously. And I knew VLC used it’s own playback system.

  6. delhiboy

    Are we all so stupid that we can’t figure out that the iPhone switch is for ‘muting’ the sound and the iPad switch is for ‘locking the orientation’ and Apple needs to ‘fix’ this for us?

    Don’t say it is so. I might have to JB the iPad to get back control of MY orientation lock button!

  7. Adam

    Mike, the mute switch is not quite as useless as you say. Its purpose is to mute notification-like sounds (new mail, incoming VoIP call rings, calendar alerts). It is not intended to mute things like audio or video playback, where the assumption is if you started playing them you would want to hear them. The volume rocker controls the volume of those things which are not muted by the mute switch. Things which are muted by the mute switch will stay muted even if you adjust the volume rocker. Confused yet? :-)

  8. Chris

    All their stuff works together? I don’t have a HP wireless printer. I have an Airport with an older HP connected and shared. Can I AirPrint? No I can not.

  9. Chris

    Apple doesn’t make a toaster oven. And yes, I realize that there are those pesky drivers. I know that the Airport is not a wireless printer, just a way to extend the USB. But if you’re going to put in a print architecture, then you should figure people will want to use the plumbing you’re already supplying. My knowledge of the issues does not excuse Apple for not solving them.

    My comment was refuting your statement that Apple gear “just works”

    “Because the same company designed all of the hardware and controls the OS that powers ‘em all, and this company is clearly on our side.”

    When in this case (not the Toaster Oven case) but this case where an HP printer is connected to an Apple Router which has the specific firmware to share that printer wireless-ly to all Apple computers. It does NOT work.

    Finally, I also know that Apple did not claim it would work. Instead, they claim they now have printing, to a little more then half a dozen printers. That is pretty underwhelming.

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