Apple Releases iOS 4.2

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Back in September, Apple, Inc., CEO Steve Jobs announced AirPlay, a feature for an upcoming version of the iOS device operating system.

"We're changing name from AirTunes, since it's not just photos anymore," said Jobs. "With AirPlay, you'll be able to stream video and images from devices that we'll talk about a bit later."

Jobs then offered a sneak peek at iOS 4.2, which Apple released today.

"The update to iOS 4.2 brings to the iPad brings all the same features of iPhone," said Jobs, "including HDR photos."

This last point was curious, as the current iPad does not have a built-in camera, fueling conjecture in to the potential release of what's been dubbed iPad 2.

In the meantime, the AirPlay feature is one of the major enhancements to all current-generation iOS devices.

"AirPlay lets you stream digital media wirelessly from your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch to your Apple TV and AirPlay-enabled speakers," Apple said during today's announcement, adding, "so you can watch movies and photos on your widescreen TV and play music through the best speakers in the house."

The ability to play content from an iPad or iPhone to a television is certainly of interest, and fits a bit more in to the "sling it" category than does the audiobook round-tripping that has been a staple on the iPod for years.

The move toward AirPlay may have something to do with the numbers and the newest generation iPod touch, which Jobs referred to as an iPhone without a contract.

"Today, there are over 203 million iPhone and iPad devices, compared to 275 million iPods," Jobs said during the September event. "We've had market share but have never rested on our laurels, so we're changing everything."

During the September event, Jobs announced the fourth generation iPod touch with two cameras-a front-facing one for FaceTime and a rear-facing HD-capable video camera-that may also provide a clue to AirPlay's capabilities

"You can FaceTime between iPod touch iOS devices," said Jobs, referring to the front camera, "or between an iPod touch and an iPhone."

Given the ability to capture HD video, the iPod touch's AirPlay functionality may be less about pushing a rented movie or TV show to the AppleTV and more about pushing HD video captured on the iPod touch to the AppleTV.

After all, the screens on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch fourth generation aren't capable of playing back HD video, so it stands to reason that a user would not rent an HD movie or TV show to watch on this smaller screen.

Yet it's very likely that the iPod touch or iPhone 4, used to capture 720p HD footage, would also not be the showcase screen to show off captured video to friends and family. Hence, the ability to stream content directly from the iPhone or iPod touch to the AppleTV's connected big screen.

The question remains as to whether the quality of lower-resolution content, such as a non-HD movie or TV show rental, will look as good on the big screen as it does on the relatively high quality small screen.  Still, for Apple, it's again a matter of numbers.

The iPod touch has had 1.5 billion apps and games downloaded to it, making it, according to Jobs, "the most popular handheld gaming system on the market."

The other side of the equation, with purchased songs, TV episodes and movies, also shows the sheer amount of content that could be streamed to the Apple TV or AirPlay-enabled speakers: to date, Apple has sold 11.7 billion songs, 450 million TV episodes and 100 million movies to customers in 23 countries.

The majority of these sales, too, have been via Apple's 1-click purchasing, where information from a credit card or gift card has been pre-loaded in to the iTunes Store.

Which brings us to one more thing that was announced as part of the iOS 4.2 update today: the ability to rent television shows for the iPad.

"Rent TV shows commercial free in HD for just 99¢ an episode," the company stated during today's launch announcement, "and start watching them in minutes."

This feature has been available on the Apple TV, but given the sheer volume of iPad (and iPhone/iPod touch) devices out there, the rental model is one that Apple can't afford to miss.

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