Apple has released a new version of iOS for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, boosting the devices' capabilities to stream music and video to multiple devices in the home.
Overall, iOS 4.2, released Monday, brings more than 100 new features to the iPad, including the ability to easily switch between multiple running applications. In addition, the tablet-style computer gets a unified e-mail inbox that can accept feeds from multiple e-mail accounts.
But the AirPlay features mark one more step in Apple's strategy of making its products the hub of the wireless home. To further boost that strategy, Apple has also included in iOS 4.2 AirPrint, which make it possible to print directly from the mobile devices to a supporting printer from a third party, or a device attached to Apple's Airport Express Wi-Fi hotspot.
AirPlay makes it possible to stream video, music and photos to a flat-panel television attached to an Apple TV device, which is also used to stream content from a Mac or PC running Apple's iTunes software. In addition, AirPlay can stream content directly to third-party speakers and stereo receivers that support the technology. Such products are expected from Denon, Bowers & Wilkins, Marantz and JBL.
AirPrint brings the same wireless capabilities to printing. Hewlett-Packard will be the first to offer AirPrint-enabled printers, including the Photosmart, LaserJet Pro and Officejet.
While the iPhone and iPod Touch benefit from iOS 4.2, the iPad is the biggest beneficiary. The tablet's current OS version is 3.2.2, which lacks the ability to create folders and to multitask between multiple running applications. The iPad also gets Apple's Game Center app, which enables gamers to play each other online and to discover new games. Such features debuted with iOS 4.0 for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
One new feature that will benefit all the devices is the ability to locate lost or stolen devices. Until iOS 4.2, the feature was available only with a paid subscription to Apple's MobileMe subscription services. The location app is now free through Apple's App Store, allowing users to locate a missing device on a map and have it display a message or play a sound. In addition, a person can remotely lock or wipe data from a lost device to protect privacy.
Updating to iOS 4.2 requires syncing an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch to iTunes 10.1 on a Mac or PC. The new operating system is compatible with the iPad, iPhone 3G or higher and iPod Touch model that shipped starting in late 2009.