Our First Look at iOS 4.2 on the iPad

Earlier this week, Apple released the long-awaited iOS 4.2.1 update. Though it added new functionality to all devices, the iPad was by far the subject of the greatest number of changes.

Namely, all the great features that iPhone users have been using for months (folders, multitasking, etc.) are now available on the iPad and working like a dream. Let’s take a look at the new and improved iPad experience!


First up is my favorite new feature: folders. They were a great addition to the iPhone and an even better one to the iPad. My iPad has more capacity than my iPhone and consequently more apps. It also contains all my iPhone apps in addition to all my iPad apps. This means that before the other day I was drowning in a sea of icons. I lost track of how many screens I had and would spend forever trying to keep everything organized in some logical way.

That’s all fixed now and in its place is a nice group of clearly identifiable folders.


Folders on the iPad, a beautiful thing

Just in case you’ve never used folders on the iPhone, let’s go over how they work. To create a folder, tap and hold an app until you get the jiggly icons, then drag one icon onto another. iOS is smart enough to attempt to name the folder itself and actually does an admirable job at it.

For instance, if you combine two news apps, it names the folder “News.” If you don’t like the name it chooses, you can rename it whatever you wish (tap the folder in jiggle mode to rename).

As you can see in the shot above, each folder’s icon is a convenient preview of what’s inside. To open a folder, simply tap it. The screen will break apart and slide down revealing the apps inside.


The contents of a folder

Adding and deleting apps from a folder is as simple as dragging them in and out. In my testing, it looks like folders max out at twenty apps and you cannot create nested folders.


The iPad’s multitasking system is the same as that of the iPhone. Functionally, it’s pretty simple. If you’re listening to Pandora and want to check your email, simply switch apps like you always would and your music stays running. From a technical point of view, it’s a lot more complicated.

Closing an app that supports multitasking pauses or “freezes” the app while allowing one of seven different types of background services to remain active: background audio, voice over IP, background location, push notifications, local notifications, task completion and fast app switching. This system allows the illusion of true multitasking while theoretically saving on battery life (some users report otherwise). If you’re interested, Gizmodo has a great write-up of how it all works.

Control Panel and Recent Apps

Along with multitasking comes a new control panel that pops up at the bottom of the screen when you double tap the home button from any application. The first thing you’ll see when you do this is a list of recent apps (notice that even apps that don’t support multitasking show up here). This panel is great for quickly switching between applications while bypassing the home screen.


The recent apps menu

Most people understandably get the impression that the apps in this menu are open and draining battery life. However, several sources report that this is simply not the case. It’s a list of recent apps, plain and simple. If you don’t like seeing all those apps, tapping and holding one will bring up the option to remove them one at a time.

To the left of the recent apps menu is a control panel. Here you can quickly access the controls for whatever audio app is currently playing in the background in addition to adjusting your screen brightness and orientation lock (the physical orientation lock button has been repurposed into a mute button).


The control panel

Other New Goodies

In addition to the new features above, 4.2.1 also includes AirPlay, giving users the ability to wirelessly stream content from an iOS device to an Apple TV.

Airprint is also included but only works with a limited number of HP printers that allow wireless printing. Apple dropped the ball on allowing users to print with their iOS devices to any printer via a wireless connection to any computer. You can bet this feature is still in the works but it’s a big disappointment to see that it didn’t make the cut in this version. For now, just stop by the App Store and search for “print” to find a number of apps that will get the job done.

Finally, cruise over to the Mail application to see a number of great improvements. You can now see messages from all of your accounts in one unified inbox just like in the Mail desktop app. There’s also a really great implementation of message threads that I like a lot better than the desktop version.


Related mail messages show up in a list below the selected message.

What Do You Think?

If you’ve downloaded the latest iOS update on any device, leave a comment below and let us know what you think. Are you satisfied with AirPlay? Does it upset you that AirPrint is so lame? Have you found any bugs? We want to know!