The Apple iPad has revolutionized tablet computing, but that doesn’t mean that that the device doesn’t have room for improvement. It’s been criticized for its lack of multitasking, fractured e-mail inbox, and missing security features that business users desire. No more. Apple iOS 4.2, a free update for the iPad operating system, addresses those issues and adds several new features—wireless printing, wireless AirPlay streaming, and more—that round out the iPad experience and brings it up to speed with the Apple iPhone and iPod touch (which now run iOS 4.0). We’ve gotten the chance to install the final developer’s build for this review, which is expected to be released to the public any day now, and it remains the best tablet OS on the market. Note: iOS 4.2 for iPad may contain features not included in the iPhone and iPod touch versions.

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Setup and Interface
Installing iOS 4.2 developer’s build required logging into the iOS Dev Center with our developer credentials, and downloading the iTunes 10.1 beta 2 and iOS 4.2 files. After installing iTunes onto an Apple Macbook Pro Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz ($1,199, 4 stars), I attached an iPad, highlighted the iPad’s name within iTunes, and performed a restore by holding the Alt key while clicking “Restore.” Instead of reverting the iPad to factory settings, a dialog box opened that let me select the iOS 4.2 file on the MacBook Pro. The new operating system installed after a reset.
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iOS 4.2 : Active Programs
iOS 4.2 : Arabic Keyboard
iOS 4.2 : Folders
iOS 4.2 : Game Center Games

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On the surface, iOS 4.2 looks very similar to 3.2.2—it features Apple’s simple, but elegant app grid and, of course, extreme usability. The new iPad OS is superior to the tweaked Android operating system found on its closet rival, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, due to a better all-around polish in option selection and browser capabilities.

The most obvious difference being that the scenic mountain range background that’s the default of iOS 3.2.2 was changed to a gray background covered in water drops. There are more subtle visual changes, too, such as the navigation arrow (similar to iOS 4 on the iPhone 4) that appears in the toolbar when you fire up a location-based app (such as Google Maps), and the new on-screen screen-lock button. The latter becomes visible when you double tap the Home button, and it lets you lock the screen either vertically or horizontally. It also transforms the hardware lock button into a Mute button for quickly silencing audio—a nice touch.

New Search
Previously, clicking the Home button while you were on the home screen would take you to the Spotlight search bar that let you quickly find apps, e-mail, or other files that live on your iPad. When you do the same in iOS 4.2, you’re given two additional options: “Search Web” and “Search Wikipedia.” Both options launch the Safari Web browser and takes you to either a Google or Wikipedia search result, depending on your choice. You can tailor which items you want Spotlight to scour (Contacts, Applications, Music, Podcasts, Videos, Audiobooks, Notes, Mail, Events), but there didn’t appear a way to change the default Web search engine, Google, to Bing, Yahoo, or another.

Multitasking
Multitasking is one of the most eagerly awaited features in iOS 4.2, one that gives the more computer-like feel as you can run multiple applications at once. The previous iPad OS build automatically closed a running application when you launched another, which proved frustrating to those of us expecting a true computer experience. We tested the iPad’s newfound ability to do more than one thing at once by launching Winnie the Pooh (which came free with iBooks) and the Life magazine app. After reading Pooh’s first two pages, I decided to leave the app and check out Life photos. After I completed viewing JFK photos, I returned to Winnie the Pooh to find the app opened to the last page that I had finished reading—excellent. The multi-tasking really made me smile when I fired up Slacker Radio’s app, and listened to a custom station while reading Winnie the Pooh. Although a part of me wants to ding Apple for not having this feature before, once I experienced it, all of the frustrations were washed away.

But the changes didn’t stop there. Double-tapping the Home button ghosts the iPad’s dock by adding translucent effects, moves it slightly upward, and reveals a second row of icons. These icons represent all of the apps that are currently active and running in the background. I could swipe left and right through Safari, Life, Maps, App Store, Maxim HD, and other items that were. From this dock, you can kill any one of these apps by simply pressing and holding an icon, and tapping the “minus” icon. I really liked that I could quick-swap between these open apps by double tapping the Home button and tapping another icon (which produces a Cover Flow-like app-switching visual).

Folders
If your iPad is filled to the brim with apps, the new Folders features gives you a new and intuitive way to manage and navigate all of those icons. By pressing and holding an app until it begins to wiggle, you can then slide it on top of another app to create a folder. When I combined Life with Maxim HD, a new folder was created entitled “Photography,” the category in which Life is placed. The “Photography” folder took the place of the two others, freeing up valuable real estate. Still, I could access the Life and Maxim HD apps by tapping “Photography” and then one of apps that are revealed in the black drop-down box. Apple gives you the option to give your folder its own unique name by tapping the folder and clicking the title that’s currently in place.

Wireless Connectivity and Apple TV Compatibility
AirPrint simplifies the printing process by letting you print directly from the iPad itself without the need to install third-party apps. Once we connected our HP Photosmart to our wireless network, we open a Web page on the iPad, tapped the option button, and selected “Print,” which opened a small “Printer Options” box. There I selected the number of copies I wanted printed, whether they should be single or double-sided print, and then printer itself. I was impressed with the speed by which the iPad picked found Photosmart—it was near-instantaneous. I can see this being especially useful to business users who want to print docs and spreadsheets when away from their main computers.

iOS 4.2 let me stream content from the iPad to the new Apple TV ($99, 4 stars). After connecting the Apple TV to a wireless network, I tapped the TV icon located in the upper-left portion of the iPad’s iPod section, and selected Apple TV. I started Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and it was surprised how quickly it was recognized by Apple TV—it took just a second or two for the music to blare through the TV’s speakers. I was impressed with the processes’ simplicity. Bringing up the on-screen media controls by double tapping the Home button let me access the aforementioned media controls for controlling playback.

An episode of “Brothers and Sisters” rented from iTunes didn’t fare quite as well. Although the audio streamed perfectly, the same couldn’t be said for the video. When we streamed the show to Apple TV, only audio made it through; the visuals played back on the iPad but not the television. We suspect that this will change once iOS 4.2 goes live and a possible update is pushed out to Apple TV owners.

Unified E-mail
One of my nitpicks about the iPad is that it didn’t give users like myself who have multiple e-mail accounts the ability to read all messages in a single unified view—we had to move between one account to another to read messages. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, but still annoying. Fortunately, Apple has remedied the situation with its new unified inbox. After adding two Gmail accounts (Business, Personal), I noticed that there was an additional listing: “All Inboxes.” Here, I could read, reply, delete, and archive messages from both accounts without swapping back and forth—very convenient, and much-welcomed.

Game Center
Game Center is the iPad’s new social gaming hub where you can find friends to play with or auto-match against strangers. Scattered across the splash screen are small game images. Initially, they appeared as generic representations of specific game types, but I quickly realized that they were actual games in the App Store that were available for download. The three titles I played were free, but you can track high scores and achievements sort of as a mobile, lightweight version of Xbox Live Arcade. The titles were a fun diversion, but their very casual natures may prove unappealing to core gamers. Visiting the dedicated Game Center section of the App Store didn’t help matters as it was filled with the likes of Doodle Monster HD and Wordlands. Angry Birds and Bit.Trip Beat were, admittedly, quite good.

Finding Text on Web Pages in Safari
Safari in iOS 4.2 now lets you find word on the page. Unfortunately, the implementation is a bit confusing. When I launched a page, I paused as I didn’t know where to key in the search word. I tapped the options on top of the page (options, history, etc), but they didn’t give me what I was looking for: a search box. Out of frustration, I simple typed the search word “the” into Safari’s built-in search box that’s labeled “Google.” To my surprise, it returned not only Google Suggestions, but 100+ matches for the word “the.” Apple could’ve eliminated the confusion by simply labeling the search box “Search” so as not to make users think they’re keying terms into Google.

Business Features
Apple has also included security and management features aimed directly at business users. iOS 4.2 safeguards e-mail messages and attachments by using the iPad’s own passcode as an encryption key. The updated OS also includes WPA2 Enterprise Wi-Fi, IPSec, and SSL VPN, which can be leveraged to connect iPads to corporate networks via VPN On Demand. Mobile Device Management APIs enable third-parties to remotely configure and update settings, monitor compliance with corporate policies, and wipe or lock managed iPads. Juniper and Cisco have announced apps coming soon to support SSL VPN on iOS devices, too.

Businesses can also host and wirelessly distribute their own in-house apps, and push out updates without requiring workers to connect their iPads to computers. iOS 4.2 supports multiple Exchange ActiveSync accounts, and works with Exchange Server 2010. Users who want to save or edit an attachment can open the attachment into a compatible app directly from the mail message.

There are also new extra keyboard and dictionary options to further expand upon the iPad’s appeal to the international crowd (Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and more).

Should You Download iOS 4.2
Yes, without question. It’s free, and gives iPad owners the updates that iPhone and iPod touch users have had for some time now, unifying the various Apple platforms. We’ll have to wait to see how the video streaming fares once the update goes live before making a final judgment on that, but overall iOS 4.2 is an essential upgrade.