Find My iPhone, AirPlay top iOS 4.2 features

Nov 22, 2010
Tech

The long-awaited iOS 4.2 update was released this morning for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, adding a bunch of new features to the iOS repertoire.

At the top of the list for many people is probably Find My iPhone, a newly-free app that helps — you guessed it — find lost iOS devices. You can activate the app with your Apple (AAPL) ID from the web to make the phone play a message or a sound, which can help when your phone is lost in the couch. And when it isn’t — well, you can tell the app to lock your device or just wipe the data, if getting it back with the GPS features isn’t a possibility.

Find My iPhone is significant because it’s more powerful than similar apps in the App Store, but instead of running users the cost of a one-time download, the service was part of Apple’s MobileMe subscription service. That meant anybody who wanted to get a hold of the security measure had to pay $99 a year for the rest of the MobileMe suite. Now that service is free and no longer bound to MobileMe.

However, there’s a downside — it only works for iPhone 4, fourth-generation iPod Touch and iPad, because the app requires the ability to run in the background and be activated remotely. Apple doesn’t allow that capability in third-party App Store offerings.

The other big portion of 4.2 is the addition of AirPlay, Apple’s iOS to iOS Wi-Fi connection service. The primary use for AirPlay will be to stream video from iOS devices to Apple TV, Apple’s recently updated set-top box. That’ll mean some handy things, like the ability to download video rentals to your iPad, while still being able to watch them on Apple TV. You can already stream shows straight to your TV using the set-top box, but it doesn’t allow downloading — so basically, once you’ve paid to stream something to Apple TV, that’s all you can do with it. AirPlay allows sending things from your other devices, which can act as a de facto hard drive for the storage-minimal Apple TV. It’s probably going to make TV networks even more annoyed with Apple TV.

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You’ll also be able to stream music to stereos and speakers, provided they have some kind of Internet connection. Apple has already mentioned sets of AirPlay-enabled speakers heading to market in the next few weeks.

Another spin-off of AirPlay is AirPrint, a service that allows iOS devices to print using wireless-enabled printers over a local Wi-Fi network. A bunch of HP’s (HPQ) printers are AirPrint-ready, but don’t be surprised if this quickly becomes a printing industry standard. Once set up, the whole process will come down to one-button printing, according to Apple, so it’s just a matter of getting a printer ready to do the job and syncing it up with your iOS devices on your network.

Owners of the iPad will see a lot of new features just for their devices. Multitasking for fast app-switching is high on that list, as well as the ability to organize using Folders and support for Apple’s Game Center online social gaming service. You’ll also now have the ability to rent TV shows from iTunes on the iPad, for viewing for a short period of time.

Supposedly, for those of us still stuck with an old iPhone 3G, iOS 4.2 packs an update that will significantly increase performance. Apparently, the last update, 4.1, wasn’t so good for old iPhones, and changes have been made in 4.2 to correct those problems.

I can’t tell you if that’s true yet. My iTunes and iPhone refuse to acknowledge 4.2 even exists right now.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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