It’s been nearly a full day since Apple announced a long list of software features and enhancements for nearly all of its core hardware products at WWDC. The iPhone and iPod Touch will get iOS 13, MacOS 10.15 Catalina gains the ability to run iPad apps thanks to Project Catalyst, and the Apple Watch will see its share of improvements.
Apple announced a lot on Monday, but for me, the most intriguing announcement was giving the operating system that runs on the iPad its own name. By unbundling the iPad from the same OS that runs on the iPhone, Apple can add iPadOS specific features without having to worry about confusion or the resources required to bring the same features to the iPhone.
Not only does the name change give Apple more freedom with new features, but it also signals that Apple is taking the iPad and its future as a computer replacement more seriously. To be clear, the main features of iOS 13 are still present in iPadOS. Dark mode, Appel Sign In, the new Find My app, and everything else Apple announced on Monday is part of iPadOS.
There’s a lot to like about the direction Apple is taking the iPad with iPadOS. Here are the features I’m looking forward to the most, and one feature that somehow is still missing.
Widgets and smaller app icons are coming to the iPad’s homescreen in iPadOS. If you so choose the Today view, which currently lives to the left of the homescreen, it can be permanently pinned to the homescreen.
I never really use widgets right now other than to quickly glance at battery percentages, check the weather, and glance at the day’s agenda. The process now requires me to purposely seek out that information. By bringing the Today widgets to the homescreen, I can passively monitor the information I’ve deemed important.
What I’m most excited about with the new homescreen is that the addition of always on display widgets will force developers to come up with new and creative uses, adding to the iPad’s functionality.
I’ve griped about Safari on the iPad many, many times. The third-generation iPad Pro is still the best tablet I have ever used (I recently purchased one after Apple’s loan period expired), and I’ve used it daily for work, but it still has the same mobile Safari experience that I have on my iPhone. On a phone, it’s fine, but on the iPad, it’s nothing but disappointing and frustrating.
In iPadOS, Apple has revamped Safari to be what it calls a “desktop-class browser.” Safari will default to the desktop version of all websites you visit and will optimize the site for touch interaction on its own.
Apple even specifically named Google Docs, WordPress, and Squarespace as websites that now work in Safari on the iPad during the keynote.
There’s even a download manager in Safari now! If Apple can nail a desktop-class version of Safari in iPadOS, it will fully replace my MacBook Pro, and that’s something I desperately want to happen.
With iPadOS, you’ll be able to create multiple windows of the same app. Each window acts as a standalone version of that app, so you can work on a budget spreadsheet in one window, and use another window to work through a sales spreadsheet. The windows can be used next to each other, or in split view next to another app.
The demo shown during the keynote looks promising, but I couldn’t help but feel as if there’s going to be a steep learning curve. How do you open windows? How do you know you can open a new window? What about managing windows?
Slide Over was also improved, with the ability to stack apps in Slide Over. The feature looks a lot like multitasking on the iPhone XS Max, with a swipe across the bottom of the app to quickly switch between other apps currently available in Slide Over. A swipe down on the bottom of an app’s Slide Over window will reveal the complete underlying stack of available apps.
All this looks like it will make quickly switching between iPad apps and multitasking better than it currently is, but I’m afraid I’ll have to wait until well after the public beta program launches in July, when developers begin releasing updated iPad apps before we can truly see how effective the new approach is.
External storage support
The new Files app looks a lot like the Finder app on MacOS, and that’s a good thing. Mac users who have decided to ditch an older computer will have a level of familiarity with managing files and folders on iPadOS.
I’ve always wanted a better way file management system on the iPad. I was never a fan of having to remember which app I saved a file to, and then have to figure out how to move that file from one app to another — especially if one of the developers had failed to implement file sharing properly.
In addition to what appears to be a more intuitive Files app, Apple has also added support for external storage to iPadOS. Meaning, you can connect a USB thumb drive or an external hard drive to your iPad and manage files on the drive, copy files to/from the drive, and do all the normal file management stuff you’re accustomed to doing on a computer.
I never bought into Apple’s thinking that iPad users don’t want to use external storage as a reason for the lack of support, and the addition in iPadOS is the right move.
Where’s multi-user support?
Lack of multi-user support in iPadOS is disappointing. The keynote kicked off by taking a look at the next version of TvOS for Apple TV, showing off its support for multiple users, and instantly my confidence in the iPad getting the same feature grew.
Alas, the keynote came and went and we’ve yet to see any reports, leaks, or rumors after developers were able to install the beta that showed multi-user support hidden somewhere in iPadOS.
I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of the iPad after seeing Apple’s initial iPadOS release. This isn’t a release that provides one or two features with building blocks for future releases. Arguably, Apple added more features to the iPad in a single release than it ever has.
Once the public beta launches, I plan on taking a closer look at iPadOS and how it performs overall.