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Apple iOS4.2 really is 'all' about the iPad

Steve Jobs made it quite clear at his recent keynote that iOS4.2 would be "all about the iPad" but we lived in hope that iPhone and iPod users would get at least a little bit of love.

As it turned out, iPad users will be jumping with joy this morning having had a few hours to play with all of the new toys which came with yesterday's much-delayed update, but users of other iDevices have very much been left out in the cold.

It's not that those of us who haven't joined the iPad-owning community begrudge our tablet-toting brethren their long-awaited parity with all of Apple's other portable gadgets. It's just that... well, we wanted a present too.

As it turns out, even the one juicy new function everyone was expecting to be introduced across the board has been hobbled so badly as to render it useless to all but a miniscule minority.

AirPrint, which was supposed to be capable of printing to any network-connected printer through either a Mac or PC, has been restricted to a tiny handful HP printers.

The current list of compatible printers is as follows:

HP Envy eAll-in-One series (D410a)
HP Photosmart Plus e-AiO (B210a)
HP Photosmart Premium e-AiO (C310a)
HP Photosmart Premium Fax e-AiO (C410a)
HP Photosmart e-AiO (D110)
HP Photosmart Wireless e-AiO (B110)—Europe and Asia-Pacific
HP Photosmart eStation (C510)

We're sure that the list will expand over coming months, but it's cold comfort for those of us hoping to use our existing hardware.

Airplay also turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, restricted as it is to one-way media streaming between an iOS device and Apple's £99 set-top-box Apple TV. Our dreams of streaming video from the giant hard drives in our Mac Pro direct to the iPhone's Retina Display have been cruelly dashed.

There was one tiny glimmer of light for some of us with a screen smaller than 9.7 inches, but not all. Apple has deigned to take its Find My iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch) application out of the hands of MobileMe subscribers and give it out to all.

Now if your precious gadget goes AWOL, you can track it down using GPS on-line. Unless, of course, the Herbert who lifted it has turned it off. At least you can be safe in the knowledge that, when the miscreant turns it back on again, you can remotely wipe all of your data.

So that's it, if you're an iPhone or iPod Touch user. You might as well go and have a cup of tea. The rest of this article is for iPad users alone who can be even smugger than usual, despite the fact that they've only just caught up with the rest of the world.

So what's in iOS4.2 for iPad prodders? Anyone who already owns another iDevice will already be familiar with most of the following, but in the interest of completeness will run through everything.

This was a glaring omission from the original Apple mobile OS. It allows multiple applications to run in the background and changes the way the Home Button works. Double clicking on that button now brings up an active application dock (similar to the dock in OS X) at the bottom of the screen. All of the Apps which are currently running are shown in this dock, as well as an orientation lock and some handy iTunes control buttons. Note that the front-most application won't appear in the dock until you effectively 'close' it by hitting the Home Button once whilst it's active.

Because of the nature of multitasking, we have seen several instances of iPads and iPhones being swamped with open Apps. Click-hold on an App in the Dock and it will show a minus sign in the top left corner. Hit that and the App will be removed from multitasking memory and effectively quit. Don't worry if it looks like you are deleting the App, it will be back on one of your home screens the next time you look.

If you've been having problems with dropped calls, sluggish performance or frozen Apps, cleaning out the garbage on your multitasking Dock should be your first port of call.

Airplay and AirPrint
We've covered Airplay and AirPrint above, suffice to say you'll get nowhere without the relevant hardware.

This may sound simple but having access to folders is probably one of the most fundamental and useful changes to iOS. The ability to nest all of your 'games' 'utilities' and 'Crap I downloaded but don't have time to fanny about with right now' into handy folders makes things so much neater that you'll wonder how you ever did without.

It's all very clever too. Drag and drop one game on top of another and your iPad will automatically create a new folder called 'Games' to which you can add others. You can, of course, rename it as you wish.

Apple's own Mail App also gets a bit of a spruce-up with a single unified in-box for multiple email accounts from the likes of Apple, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL and many others. You'll also find nested email threads which help to keep those long to-and-fro conversations under control in a single message heading.

Game Centre
Allows you to play compatible games head-to-head with your friends or faraway opponents, track your achievements, and see where you rank on global leader boards.

You'll also get iTunes film rentals, be able to search for text on web pages in Safari, get rid of that awful Marker Felt font in Notes and change your text alert to one of 17 new tones, but you can read about all of the minutiae in greater detail here.

All in all it's a fantastic update for the rapidly-growing army of iPad fanatics who have been jealously eyeing the iPhone's far more mature OS for many months, but we can't help thinking Apple would have disappointed far fewer people if it had only pulled its digit out and implemented AirPrint properly.