A couple of years ago when I got my first iPod touch, I wrote up a small wishlist of things I’d like to see it be able to do. That was back in 2008 and I’m happy to report that 3 out of 5 things have been done. Not bad, but the number one thing I was asking for still hasn’t been added: Wireless iTunes Connectivity.
On the surface, this would seem to be the easiest of the different streaming types to achieve. In iOS 4.2, we have “Airplay” streaming to connect to an Airport Express or Apple TV. It works fairly well, but I get occasional glitches causing drop outs in the audio. Less than ideal. I’m not sure if this is because of network issues or because the devices themselves are too resource constrained to provide a continuous stream of bits.
Airplay is even worse if you want to try playing a video game to your home stereo. I was getting lag of around 2 seconds while playing Orbital. Stick with headphones or plugin directly to some speakers if you want big sound.
For streaming music, I usually use the Remote app on my iPhone or iPad to send music from my home machine to the Airport and it works much more reliably.
But what if I want to use my headphones? I could sync the music that I want through iTunes, but that’s slow and annoying. I’d still like to be able to browse my home machine and stream music directly to my device like I can in OS X. We keep hearing rumours that Apple’s working on building a cloud storage service for your music. With nearly 200GB of music on my network and limited upstream bandwidth, this would be impractical. I’m fine with keeping a limited selection of music on my devices when I’m out in the world, but having full access to my music when I’m on my home network from all of my devices would be awesome. Using a feature like “Back to my Mac” to be able to stream from my home collection when roaming would be great for bonus points.
Apple’s never really done much with their built-in streaming radio service in iTunes either, and I’m a little surprised it’s still included at all, given their push towards moving everyone into the iTunes Music Store. I still use it and have a few channels I still listen to regularly (hello GrooveSalad!). It’s surprising that I need to install a 3rd party app to do this, and to be honest, I’ve never found one that I actually like. I’ve tried Fstream and a couple others whose names escape me, they were so underwhelming. Dedicated channel apps like CBC are great for individual radio streams, but are of varied quality and fill up my home screen with multiple, redundant apps.
One feature I never looked for but now have access to is AirPrint. Apparently with a few select HP printers, I could print directly from my iPhone to a networked printer. Even if this feature worked with printers I actually own, it’s not something I could see myself ever using. I am so close to being a paperless being, I think I only ever print things when dealing with government agencies and insurance companies. For printing photos, I need a real computer with a calibrated monitor and gamut-proofing tools.
Having used iOS 4.2 for a couple of months, I’m happy to say that it’s a big improvement over the 3.2 OS that the iPad shipped with. Multitasking makes the iPad feel more like a real computer, though app switching is somewhat awkward. I love the brightness control in the little “iPod control area” in the multitasking … app bar? dock? I don’t know what to call that area — in the left-most area. I still have no idea if keeping many apps open eventually bogs down the operating system or not. I tend to scan through this area every so often and close down apps that I’m not using. On the iPhone, the differences are less noticeable, but an incremental improvement nonethless.