Apple releases iOS 4.2, makes Find My iPhone free

After a bit of a delay that left iPhone fans hanging, Apple has released iOS 4.2, the latest version of its mobile operating system for iPhones, iPads, and the iPod touch. The new version packs over 100 new features, and marks a significant improvement for the iPad, which now gains iOS 4 capabilities that other Apple iOS devices have had for a while like multitasking and folders. However, all iOS 4.2 device also get AirPlay wireless media streaming and AirPrint Wi-Fi based printing, and Apple has thrown in another bonus: it’s well-regarded Find My iPhone service now works for free, without one of Apple’s paid MobileMe accounts. And, yes, it works with iPads and the iPod touch too.

“iOS 4.2 makes the iPad a completely new product, just in time for the holiday season,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs, in a statement. “Once again, the iPad with iOS 4.2 will define the target that other tablets will aspire to, but very few, if any, will ever be able to hit.”

Among iOS 4.2’s headlining features is AirPlay, a new streaming media feature that enables users to push video, photos, and music from an iOS 4.2 device straight to an Apple TV set-top box, so users can tap into their digital media on a home theater system with no wires and no fuss. AirPlay will also be able to use AirPort Express base stations and AirPlay to stream music wirelessly to powered speakers and (soon) to AirPlay-compatible speakers and dock systems from third parties.

Perhaps the most-anticipated feature of iOS 4.2 is AirPrint, which enables iOS devices to print using Wi-Fi technology to AirPrint-compatible printers without any need for printer drivers. The first printers to support AirPrint will be the HP Photosmart, HP LaserJet Pro, and HP OfficeJet, but other AirPrint-compatible printers should be coming soon. The feature will be a big hit with iPad users, especially in business and education, where printing is still a big deal.

Apple also delivered a surprise with iOS 4.2: it’s Find My iPhone service that helps users location missing iOS devices is now free. Find My iPhone (which also works with iPod touches and iPads) used to require a subscription to Apple’s $99/year MobileMe cloud-based services, but is now available to all iOS 4.2 devices. Find My iPhone enables users to pull up a map with a missing device’s location, have it display a message, or play a sound. If the device has been stolen, Find My iPhone can also remotely lock or wipe data from the device.

iOS 4.2 also includes a number of other features, including improves support for enterprise security and device management technologies, improved on-page searching with the built-in Safari Web browser, and 30-day viewing windows and 48-hour playback windows on the iPad for TV episodes rented through iTunes. iPad users will also appreciated a unified inbox and threaded messaging for mail.

iOS 4.2 works with the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and iPhone 4, along with the second and third generation iPod touch and all existing models of the Apple iPad. The update is available now to download by syncing devices with iTunes version 10.1, also available for free download from Apple.

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