iOS 4.2 updates iPad with multitasking, printing

The iPad has been embraced as a business tool despite some very vocal naysayers proclaiming it a mere consumer toy with no place in the business world.

The iOS 4.2 update–expected to be released later today–includes a variety of features that make the Apple tablet even more suited for business use.

Apple’s iPad is not a productivity workhorse, but it is a more than capable device for the vast majority of mobile business computing tasks. You probably don’t want to use it to create a multi-faceted spreadsheet, and I doubt you’d want to write a lengthy white paper on it–but you could if you really had to.

The reality is that most mobile users have simpler needs anyway. A device that lets users get and send e-mail, surf the Web, and perform light content creation or editing tasks fulfills the role that most users need a mobile device to fill. The fact that it is significantly thinner and lighter than your average notebook PC, and that it has the battery life to survive an entire day on a single charge make it an ideal mobile business computing platform.

New tools for admins

The iPad is not without its handicaps. The lack of any SD memory card slot or USB port limits its business functionality to some extent. The absence of a front-facing camera renders it useless for FaceTime video chat, or for video conferencing. Those are hardware-based issues which may or may not be resolved with the next generation iPad, but there are also some oversights that can be fixed with software–and those are addressed with iOS 4.2.

Many of the updates in iOS 4.2 will appeal more to IT admins and make the iPad a more viable mobile business tool by making it easier for admins to manage, maintain, and protect it.

With iOS 4.2, IT admins can host and wirelessly distribute custom in-house apps over either 3G or Wi-Fi. Apps can be updated over the air when necessary, enabling changes to be delivered to iPads without requiring the device to be physically connected to a PC.

For better security and data protection, iOS 4.2 includes support for SSL VPN connections. SSL VPN connections let remote users access company resources securely. iOS 4.2 also enhances data protection by using the device passcode as an encryption key to protect e-mail messages and file attachments.

Finally, Apple introduces new Mobile Device Management APIs that enable third-party developers to create solutions to configure and update settings wirelessly, monitor compliance with corporate policies, and remotely lock or wipe the iPad.

Cool tools for consumers

Most prominently, iOS 4.2 finally brings the capabilities of iOS 4–multitasking, folders, and more–to the iPad. But it also brings two new big features of its own: AirPlay, which lets you stream media from your iOS device to your Apple TV or third-party equipment, and AirPrint, which lets you print directly from your iOS device to certain compatible printers. And just for good measure, there are a handful of smaller improvements along for the ride.

So, I can finally print from my iPad?

Well, that depends. While Apple originally touted the ability for iOS devices to take advantage of printers shared from a Mac or PC, it looks like that feature didn’t make the cut for Mac OS X 10.6.5. So instead you’ll need to have a compatible HP eSmart printer. There’s still a chance that printer sharing might return at some point in the future, but Apple hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about when–or if–that might happen.

Related story – Can the Apple iPad replace all your other devices?

But at least I can stream media from my iOS device, right?

Again, the answer is a qualified yes. If you’ve got one of Apple’s fancy new Apple TVs, you’re all set–you can stream pictures, audio, and video from any supported app–which includes the built-in iPod, Music, Videos, iTunes, and YouTube apps–at will. AirPort Express owners can only stream audio from iOS devices. In addition, third parties such as Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Marantz, JBL, and iHome have already announced their intentions to build AirPlay-compatible speakers and receivers and, in some cases, provide firmware updates for existing units.

What if I don’t have a fancy printer or A/V gadget? What’s in 4.2 for me?

If you’re an iPad user, then multitasking is undeniably the big draw. Even then, though, you’ll need to wait until app makers update their software to take advantage of the new features. The good news? Many programs that run on both the iPad and iPhone already have multitasking support built in. You’ll also get the other 4.0 features.

Remind me what those are again?

Mail now has a unified inbox that lets you see all your new messages in one place, and it can organize messages by thread. Folders let you group applications and help reduce Home screen clutter–the iPad lets you fill a folder with up to 20 different apps. And there’s Game Centre, Apple’s gaming social network, which lets you compare scores with your friends, rank in leaderboards, and earn achievements in supported games. Round it out with support for iTunes TV show rentals and the Ping social networking service, and it’s nothing to sneeze at.

I’ve got an iPhone or iPod touch–what do I get out of 4.2?

Besides AirPrint and AirPlay, iPhone users mainly get a handful of smaller features at their disposal. For example, you can now search for text on a Web page, control VoiceOver from a wireless keyboard, and take advantage of the expanded international support that adds keyboards and dictionaries for langauges like Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew.

Surely there’s more in this update.

That’s not really a question–and don’t call me Shirley. But, yes, there are plenty of smaller features too. For example, iOS 4.2 expands the available tones for when you get a text message and lets you change the font for the Notes app (under Settings -> Notes).

Parental controls now allows parents to restrict kids from deleting apps as well as installing them, changing account information, and playing multiplayer games or adding friends in Game Centre. You can also now choose to have the hardware buttons not change the alert or ringer volume along with the volume of media you’re playing back, a welcome fix for many who have accidentally quieted their alarms.

Fine, you’ve convinced me. How do I get this magical update?

As always, just plug your iOS device into iTunes–if you’re not prompted, click Check for Updates and away you go. Remember to sync your device first so you get a full backup, just in case.

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