Apple’s iPad is about to get a huge makeover (well a fairly big one) with the addition of iOS 4.2, and we’ve been playing with the developer code for some time now to find out what’s new, what it is like, and whether you should bother upgrading.
The long and short of it, of course, is that you should upgrade. Come 6pm on Monday 22 November you should, if you already own an iPad, be pressing that update button frantically to get the new features.
Once you’ve downloaded the new update, meaning your iPad leaps from iOS 3.2 to iOS 4.2, the first thing you’ll notice is that it looks virtually identical to the iPad version you’ve seen before. In fact you’ll initially wonder what all the fuss is about.
For the majority of the screens, options and menus iOS 4.2 for your iPad is the same, well from a looks point of view anyway.
Your iPhone may have been able to do it for some time, but this is the first time the iPad will get multitasking and the first time you'll be able to use it like a netbook when out and about.
That means running Skype in the background while you work on an email or a document in pages, or playing a game; pausing it to check something online before resuming that last level on Angry Birds.
Multitasking works in exactly the same way as on the iPhone and is incredibly easy to use.
All those apps cluttering up your pages, fret not. Now you can dump them all into a folder, and better still Apple has increased support from 12 apps to a folder to 20, meaning you might be able to ditch that “Game 1” and “Game 2” approach if you like your games.
Folders work in an identical way to the iPhone offering, automatically naming themselves based on the type of apps that you fill them with initially, while also allowing you to change the name.
Orientation lock Brightness and music playback
That hard coded switch you’ve been using on the side of your iPad to lock the orientation is now the mute button for the device, with the orientation lock moving to an on-screen button, activated when you press the home key twice.
Double tap the iPad’s homescreen now and you’ll get access to the multitasking elements (as we've already said) and the ability to quickly adjust the iPad’s brightness. That’s great for saving battery and making sure that you can see what you are doing, without having to go deep into the settings options.
You’ll also get music controls (you can now play music in the background) and a double tap means it’s easier to find.
iOS 4.2 adds AirPlay to both the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod touch and allows you to stream content like music and videos from your Apple device to another device like the new Apple TV, Denon amps, or other devices that are coming out in the near future.
Press the AirPlay button on the corresponding app and you can start streaming from one to the other. It really is simple, and in our play we’ve found it to work perfectly even in the background.
Why would you need such a feature? Well, Apple says, if you’ve spent your journey home watching your favourite movie and want to finish it off on a big screen, now you can.
Support for the new feature varies. You can use it on YouTube videos and videos in your Video player that you've imported from iTunes or bought from the iTunes store, however you won't be able to AirPlay BBC iPlayer content, content from US TV sites like Hulu, or movies you've shot on the iPhone using the camcorder.
Yep, you’re probably really sceptical at the moment, but give it a couple of weeks and like most Apple products you live with, you’ll no doubt wonder how you ever coped without it.
Printing via AirPrint
You’ve waited months to be able to print something off your iPad and now you can. That’s right iOS 4.2 for the iPad adds printing support, but only if you’ve got a compatible iPad AirPrint printer.
Still, if you have got an iPad-ready printer you’ll be able to print and print and print until the cows come home. The good news is this isn't just Pages documents, but anything where the app supports it. In our case documents and images.
Find My iPhone
Previously only available via the company's Mobile Me service, iPad owners who've installed iOS 4.2 will be able to find their iPad via the Find My iPhone feature. It allows you to locate your device via a Google map and even remotely wipe the device if you think it's fallen into the wrong hands.
Unified inbox and email threads
If you’ve got more than one email account (work and maybe Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail) then you can now have multiple inboxes on your iPad. This is very handy if you’ve got multiple users of the iPad in your house and they are whinging that you’ve taken the inbox.
Of course there is nothing stopping you reading each others mail, but you’ve got nothing to hide have you?
It’s not just joint inbox support that’s come to the iPad, but all the features that iOS 4.1 users have been enjoying on the iPhone as well. That means conversation threads which should help when it comes to using this as a netbook substitute, rather than just a glorified video screen to keep you entertained on a plane.
Find on page
iOS 4.2 adds a rather handy feature for finding things on web pages - ideal if you are searching for a specific word. Now, when you type into the Google search box in Safari, at the bottom it adds the ability to locate that search to the page you are on - highlighting your request in bright yellow. You can then click "next" to see the next instant on the page, until you’ve hopefully found the reference you were looking for.
Now you can have those Angry Bird scores recorded and shared so you can show off to your friends.
So should you be updating tonight? Of course you should. So get updating now, after all it's free.