Since its launch in early April, the iPad has only received minor bugfix updates while the iPhone and iPad touch got a major update with iOS 4 in June. Apple promised to bring the iPad up to par with its smaller brethren in November and all signs point towards the release of iOS 4.2 for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch this week. For the iPad, this update introduces a number of major new features, including multitasking, folders and a unified inbox for your email, as well as support for wireless printing and AirPlay.
Note: Apple has not officially released iOS 4.2 yet. While we were able to quickly find, download and install it, remember that the only official versions are hosted on Apple’s servers and that you install these leaked files at your own risk.
Multitasking: The most important new feature for iPad users in iOS 4.2 is Apple’s interpretation of multitasking. Just like on the iPhone and iPod touch, a double click on the home button brings up a bar at the bottom of the screen with the last few apps you used. This allows you to switch between apps without having to go to the home screen first. The iPhone’s smaller screen displays the last four apps, the iPad displays six.
Also just like on the iPhone, swiping to the right on the multitasking panel brings up music controls. On the iPad, this menu now also includes the ability to set the screen brightness and volume. Apple turned the orientation toggle on the top right of the device into a mute switch, so this area of the multitasking bar now lets you lock your iPad into the desired orientation mode.
Folders: This is nothing new for iPhone owners, but iPad users can now finally organize their apps into folders as well. Folders on the iPad can hold up to 20 apps (iPhone folders can hold up to 12 apps).
Email: Unified Inbox: See all your email in one inbox, even if you sync multiple email accounts with your iPad. If you are a Gmail user, you can now also archive your emails instead of just deleting them.
Game Center: Apple’s social gaming hub now makes an appearance on the iPad as well. The only major new feature here compared to the current iPhone version is that the Game Center homepage now surrounds your scoreboard with the icons of the “top Game Center games.” Clicking on one of these icons brings up the App Store.
AirPrint: AirPrint allows you to wirelessly print from your iPad. We weren’t able to test this yet, but this feature will allow iOS 4.2 devices to discover printers on the local network and based on what we have heard so far, users will have to run the latest version of Snow Leopard to make use of this. It’s currently not clear if Apple will also offer this feature to Windows users. Oddly enough, while Apple is bring this feature to most of the built-in apps, it’s never quite where you would expect it to be. In the mail app, you have to click on the ‘reply’ button to find the print menu, for example, while you can find it in the sharing menu in Safari and the photos app.
AirPlay: This is another feature we weren’t able to test yet, but according to Apple, iPad owners will now be able to stream their pictures, videos and music directly from their mobile devices to their Apple TVs and Apple’s own AirPort Express, as well as to other AirPlay-compatible devices from third-party vendors.
Notes: Apple’s built-in note-taking app now allows you to choose between three different fonts (Chalkboard, Marker Felt and Helvetica).
New features in Safari: Apple also made a few small but welcome changes to the iPad’s browser. Most importantly, the ‘+’ button for bookmarking sites is gone and has been replaced with a share button that includes the bookmarking functionality, but also allows you to compose and email with a link to the current page and to print the page with the help of AirPrint. The tab button now also shows how many open tabs you currently have.
Also new is the ability to search for text inside a page. The search feature in Safari now doesn’t just display search suggestions but also tells you how often your search terms appear on the page you are currently looking at. After clicking on one of these results, a new bar appears at the bottom of the browser screen that allows you to jump to all the instances of this keyword and also to refine your search.
Ping is Missing in Action: Maybe we missed this – or maybe Apple hasn’t enabled this yet – but the company’s stillborn social network doesn’t appear in the iPad’s iTunes application (yet).