5 new iPad features introduced this week in iOS 4.2

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This week, Apple released the long-awaited 4.2 version of iOS, its operating system for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. This is a free upgrade–plug your iPad into your computer to sync and perform the update. 4.2 unifies the operating system across all these devices–from last June until this week, the iPhone and iPod touch had features that hadn’t yet been finished for the iPad. Here are some of those features and a few other things to know about when you upgrade your iPad to iOS 4.2.

1. Multitasking

A much-requested (and much-needed) iOS feature that was introduced in version 4.0 has made it to the iPad in version 4.2: The ability to quickly switch between applications. If you’re new to this feature, here’s how it works: At any time, double-press the Home button on your iPad to reveal a list of recently used applications. Select one of them to quickly bring it to the forefront in the same state it was in when you left it. It may not seem like much, but this new feature saves a great deal of time and is especially useful if you’re copying and pasting information from one app to another.

2. Folders

I’m personally not a big fan of folders in iOS, but I know most people are. With folders, you can group applications together however you’d like to save real estate on your home screen and/or reduce the need to switch from screen to screen. It’s another feature that iPhones and iPod touches have had since summer, now available for the iPad.

3. Safari search

Here’s something I have been wishing for: The ability to search for a keyword within a lengthy web page. You can now do this via the search window in Safari, to quickly find all instances of a word in the web page you’re currently viewing.

4. Orientation lock

When Apple first introduced the iPad, they indicated that the hardware switch near the volume control would serve as a mute switch. Then, at the last minute, they made the switch serve as an orientation lock, so you could keep the iPad screen in either portrait or landscape mode (by default, the iPad will automatically turn content on the screen depending on how you’re holding it, keeping everything right side up). This turned out to be really useful, but for some reason Apple has reverted the switch to its original intent in iOS 4.2. The good news is you can still lock the screen, and O’Reilly has shared how to turn the orientation lock off and on using the multitasking bar mentioned above. It’s better than nothing but I hope Apple decided to make the hardware switch a user-customizable option in the near future.

5. Printing

Last and by far not least: You can finally print from your iPad! Well, sort of–out of the box you’ll need a new HP printer with AirPrint capabilities. Apple had originally promised that any printer shared from a Mac or PC but had to backpedal on that support. The good news is if you don’t want to invest in a new printer, and would like this functionality now (and use a Mac), a new $10 piece of software called Printopia will have you up and running with printing in a minute or so. A free, week-long demo is available so you can see if it will work for you–I tried it and it works great with my old HP printer. You can also send files directly to your Mac or print them to PDF.

Another option for Mac users–and note I have not tried this–is AirPrint Hacktivator. This option changes some system configuration files and may not be for anyone who doesn’t like to get in under the hood. There’s also a Windows option for AirPrint that again, I have not tried, but may be worth pursuing.

More

These aren’t the only new features your iPad will get in iOS 4.2; MacWorld has a list of 10 new iPad features you’ll want to check out. I’m also digging into updates to the Universal Access features, which I mentioned briefly when talking about using the iPad screen reader for reading support. What are your favorite features? What features are you still waiting for?

Photo: Yutaka Tsutano on Flickr

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Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.