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Impressions: iOS 4.2 Beta 1 on iPad

by on September 21st, 2010

As I’m sure you’ve seen here and on other iOS blogs, iOS 4.2 was released on beta last week with some fanfare. Not surprising, considering it’s the first chance any of us get to play with this major upgrade on the iPad. I won’t bore you with the details of the upgrade [you can find them here], but I want to leave some initial impressions with you about the new functionality and some quick thoughts about them.

Here is the new boss; Same as the old boss

There's really no difference in the Look & Feel

Initially, iOS 4.2 looks very much the same as iOS 3.2. You still get the same number of icons per screen; the screen resolution is still the same; and iOS 4.2 doesn’t actually shed any weight from the device [unfortunately]. Everything you were familiar with in 3.2 are still in 4.2, and this is what any upgrade should be – seamless and easy.

It’s what’s under the hood that matters

Folders are a great way to de-clutter your screen.

The reason why iOS 4.2 is so highly anticipated for the iPad is because of the extra bells and whistles that already come on the iPhone: Multitasking, Folders and Game Center. Joining these existing iOS 4 features are Printing and AirPlay and the Unified Mailbox. I won’t dwell on the existing iOS 4 features since many others have already written about their impressions on those, but I do want to focus on the 3 major new features.

The Losers: Printing & AirPlay

Printing was so 2000's.

To me, printing on the iPad seems gimmicky. I know the loud voices in the iOS community have begged and pleaded for it, but I often look at my workflow and realize that one of the largest draws for the iPad is so I don’t have to lug around paper. Enabling printing really just seems like a knee-jerk reaction similar to that of the Copy-Paste fiasco in iOS 3.

Initially, AirPlay sounds pretty useful off the bat. Seamless integration of my media to my existing sound system is a great idea…if I had a decent sound system that supports AirPlay. At the moment, only a limited number of systems support AirPlay [Denon, iHome, & Bowers and Wilkins being a few], and this simply isn’t enough for this iOS 4.2 feature to be useful for most people.

The Winners: Enterprise Integration and Unified Mailbox

The Integrated Mailbox seamlessly merges your personal and work mailboxes. Just like your personal and work lives.

I think it’s a safe assumption to say that most iPad owners will have more than one email account; a GMail account, a corporate Exchange account, maybe one or two other accounts on Microsoft Live Mail or Yahoo! Mail. Keeping track of the different accounts wasn’t necessarily hard on previous iterations of iOS, but it was a bit annoying. One had to go all the way back to the very top level and click-through to the Inbox again. With the new streamlined Unified Mailbox, all your Inbox messages are placed in one single place, already sorted. They’ve also simplified the navigation, so that all of your individual account Inboxes can be found quickly and easily.

Another nice enterprise security feature is integrating a real password lock on the device beyond the simple 4-digit lock. This is definitely something that Apple has improved on over Android, Windows Phone and the Blackberry platforms. As Apple continues to strengthen their iOS devices for the enterprise, I would expect even stronger adoption of the iPad.

Improved Lockscreen grealy improves the iPad's penetration in the enterprise.

Final Thoughts

In my personal opinion, iOS 4.2 wouldn’t have gotten the fanfare it received if this weren’t the first iteration of the new OS on the iPad. Many of the features feel gimmicky to appease the crowds, with little to do with real functionality, and the remainder of the features really should have been in previous versions of the OS. Regardless, this is still a welcomed update, if only for the improved security and mailbox functionalities.

So what are the new features you’re looking forward to? If you’re already on the beta, what are your initial impressions and thoughts for the new firmware? Is it worth it? Or is it just a tiny step and insignificant step forward for the platform?

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Posted under: iPad Firmware

  • Xiantayne

    I’m really looking forward, no wait, I’m really impatiently awaiting the opportunity to upgrade to iOS 4.2 on my iPad. How does one get involved in Beta testing such a thing?

  • You have to be registered with the Developer Program. I think its $100 a year or something. You have to have a Mac too.

  • I agree with the printing for personal users – I will probably never use it. But it they want any level of enterprise adoption, it needs it and I can see it being very useful in that space.

  • Jhalmos

    The wait for iOS 4.x on iPad has been way too long. You could feel the air gets sucked out of the room when Jobs announced with false glee that it was going to be November. What we really need, besides multi-account inboxes, is multi accounts like we get on our iMacs. Sharing the iPad is a major issue Apple hopes will be solved by families pumping out $600 like it’s lunch money. I use the printing feature from the newly updated HP Printing app all the time. Airplay is going to be a huge deal. The “looseness” about music playback will be as liberating as the MP3 was. Of course, audio fidelity will continue to plummet, and I’ll be able to get a nice warm set of valve amps at a brilliant price in a few years while everyone continues to lose the art if listening.

  • I’m waiting for multitasking and unified inbox/mail threading. Printing will be handy for documents on the go. Man, this is one helluva wait eh!

  • Yea. They’re really dangling the carrot in front of us, huh? It’s really the only reason I ponied up for a Dev account.

  • That’s a good point. I should try it on the corporate systems. Though, given how locked-down large corporate printing can be, I’m expecting some issues getting it working. Will try to update though.

  • You’re absolutely right on both counts, rizulli. It’s also worthwhile to download XCode while you’re a dev…it really helps with installing new code.

  • That’s a great point about device sharing and profiles on the device, especially if you’re using it as an enterprise device as well as an entertainment device for the rest of the family. I can totally see the lock screen as an account switcher.

  • Flantastic

    I definitely agree that printing for the average user isn’t something that would be used a lot, but once in a while (maybe 2 or 3 times since ive had the ipad when it first came out) I’ve wanted to print something, and the fact that you cant do a basic task like that is really irritating. I’m also longing for the unified mailbox…these aren’t big changes, but in a device like this, its the basic user experiance that is important, and Apple knows it. Any small annoyance happening over and over that can really piss you off…

  • Alex

    You had me until the copy-paste fiasco was mentioned. If you’re not using the copy-paste functionality frequently, I would even guess that you’re not utilizing your gadget to the fullest. Copy-Paste is quite necessary and based on this connection made in the article, I might be led to believe that printing is also necessary…more than you’re realizing.

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