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Apple iOS 4.2 brings multitasking, folders, and AirPrint to iPad

Apple released a beta version of the iOS 4.2 software to registered members of its  iOS developer program. The update, announced earlier this month, will introduce existing iPhone and iPod Touch features to the iPad. It also unifies Apple’s mobile software platform across all its devices – no more tracking what features are available where.

Initial developer feedback is fairly positive, especially now that the iPad supports folders and multitasking. Users can organize up to 20 similar apps into named folders. This is a bump from the iPhone’s limit of 12 apps. Under the update, iPad now supports running up to seven types of background tasks. You can double-click the Home button to bring up a shelf (six icons in portrait orientation and seven in landscape) that lets you quickly switch between apps, such as playing music, making VoIP calls, and receiving local notifications.

Most significantly, users can now print from their iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch using AirPrint. With one touch of a button, the device wirelessly print to a compatible HP printer or printers shared via a Mac or PC.

Apple made a design change that was notable coming from a company that rarely reverses its design decisions. Apple changed the functionality of the screen orientation lock at the bottom of the screen into a mute switch. Under the update, the process to lock the screen orientation (portrait or landscape) on the iPad is now the same as the process on the iPhone and iPod Touch: pull up the multitasking dock, swipe left, and select the lock button. There is also a faster access to the brightness slider to adjust the screen in dim light.

Gamers can also  access the iPad version of the new Game Center app directly from the home screen.

The final version is expected to roll out to all iPad users in November.

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