Apple Previews iOS 4.2, Still Syncs Like iPhone OS 1.0

Reiterating much of the iOS presentation by Steve Jobs, a new web page adds a few details to what iOS 4.2 brings in November. As Steve Jobs said, “it’s all about iPad,” and that’s a shame because it should be about the cloud.

iOS 4.2’s major features include multitasking, folders, wireless printing, and AirPlay, the latter a renaming and expansion of AirTunes to include video. Of course, multitasking requires apps written for iOS 4, and can have the same drawbacks as on other iOS devices: performance and battery life. Folders are fine, and the enhancements to Mail, a unified inbox, threads, and opening attachments in third-party apps, will be great.

Minor improvements include Game Center, more language support for keyboards and dictionaries, accessibility enhancements, and improved security and remote management for enterprise. There’s also a welcome minor enhancement to Safari, allowing searching to “find and highlight specific words and phrases on large web pages.”

So why do I feel underwhelmed?

It’s because we now live in a world where millions of people have multiple iOS devices, and yet with few exceptions we still have to plug and unplug each device into a computer to synchronize data and programs. Subscribers to MobileMe can add, delete, and make changes to e-mail, contacts, bookmarks, calendars—but inexplicably not to do items—those changes populating to every device without even pressing a button, let alone using a cable.

For everything else, you have to plug one device after another into a computer, sync them, then maybe sync some of them again to get all changes to all devices. Even worse, some actions, like deleting podcasts, music, and video, have to be undertaken on the computer, lest they reappear on devices. Outside of iTunes, an ever-increasing number of applications require synchronization themselves, each of which has to be done over a local wireless network one at time.

While there have been alleged Magic 8-ball like e-mails from Steve Jobs promising wireless syncing  “someday,” some of us hoped that day would be in November. Are we really going to have to wait until the middle of 2011 before Apple addresses such a fundamental issue as modern synchronization of devices? If so, one wonders where Google (s goog) and Android will be on that feature then.

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