Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast
What is iPadOS?
For a number of years now, the iPad has run a modified version of iOS for iPhone. Features that were designed for iPhones were also made available to iPads. However, in recent years, the iPad began to develop into a more unique device. For instance, multitasking, keyboard and Pencil support meant that it was no longer just a big iPhone. It was a platform that deserved its own niche. In 2019, Apple decided that the iPad was now different enough that it deserved its own version of iOS. They called it iPadOS. Essentially, it is still a modified version of iOS, but it includes iPad-specific features that were designed with a different kind of user in mind. What follows are some of my favorite iPadOS additions.
The New iPad Home Screen
The first change you will see when you upgrade to iPadOS is the revised home screen. The new layout makes room for up to 30 app icons. This is 10 more than in iOS 12 and it clearly makes better use of the iPad's large screen.
You can also add widgets to the home screen. The Today View that was previously accessed by swiping from left to right has been replaced by a column of customizable widgets that appear to the left of your app icons. You can summon this view with the same left to right swipe, or pin it so that it is always viewable on your home screen.
The widgets give you quick snippets of information from your favorite apps, or easy access to some system settings like battery life or Screen Time. You can reorder the widgets, edit which ones appear, and scroll through the whole list by swiping up and down.
Improvements to iPad Multitasking
In iOS 11, Apple introduced a new multitasking system on the iPad. It revolved around drag and drop gestures and was based upon two specific features called Split View and Slide Over. The first version of iPadOS builds on this and takes it to the next level. For instance, you can now have multiple apps in the Slide Over view and switch between them with a swipe. You can also expand your entire Slide Over stack and see all of your Slide Over apps at once.
Another multitasking improvement is the ability to have more than one instance of an app open at one time. This means you could have two documents open in split view, or Safari and Notes in one window and Safari and Mail in another window. You can see all the open instances of a particular app with App Expose. It is activated by tapping on an icon in the dock to reveal all the pairings that a particular app is being used with.
Using the Files App on iPad
For years, Apple resisted a traditional file structure on the iPad. They feared it would add an unnecessary layer of complexity. However, they finally relented with the release of the Files app in iOS 11. The arrival of iPadOS breathes new life into file management on the iPad. It includes a new column view for browsing deep into nested folders, as well as a new preview window that has quick actions like the ability to rotate an image, make a PDF of a document, or use the markup tools. You can also use On My iPad to create folders for local storage.
The Files app also allows you to connect to a server at work to access files remotely, and Apple has finally added the ability to plug in a USB flash drive, SD card reader or an external storage drive to the iPad. You can access files from any of these devices in Files or any other app that adds support for external devices. Last but not least, iCloud Drive now supports shared folders so you can now work collaboratively with others by creating and sharing folders on your iPad.
The New Safari Browser for iPad
Safari got a big update in iPadOS. It now identifies itself to websites as Safari for Mac, which means you will no longer be forced to navigate iPhone versions of websites like YouTube or Reddit. This means Safari is now a desktop-class browser on the iPad. When you visit Google Docs, Squarespace or Wordpress on iPadOS, you are greeted with the exact same experience you get on a laptop, and it is automatically optimized for touch input.
Safari also gains a download manager. This means you can finally download files from the web to your iPad. Simply tap the download link, and files will be automatically saved to a new folder in the files app called Downloads.
Scrolling is quicker in Safari because you can now grab the scroll bar and drag it up and down with one finger. This is perfect for quickly scanning through a long article. Like other apps, Safari can now be used in multiple windows thanks to the new multitasking features, and there are over 30 new keyboard shortcuts to help you navigate the web.
Text Editing in iPadOS
In a move that will please content creators everywhere, iPadOS introduces new text editing features that are designed to make it easier to work on an iPad. For instance, you can pick up the cursor and drag it anywhere you want. Previously this was only possible by long pressing on the spacebar and entering the keyboard touchpad mode.
You can select a word by double tapping on it. Three taps selects a sentence, while four taps in quick succession will select the paragraph. You can also quickly select a block of text by dragging your finger over it. Selected text can be copied with a three finger pinch, and pasted by using a reverse three finger pinch gesture. You can also perform an undo gesture by swiping left with three fingers.
The new text editing features will take some getting used to, but once mastered, they should help speed up text editing workflows on the iPad.
Keyboard Changes in iPadOS
The on-screen software keyboard gets some useful additions in iPadOS. If you pinch on the keyboard with two fingers, you can shrink it to an iPhone-sized keyboard. This floating keyboard can be moved anywhere on the screen and makes one-handed typing easier than ever. It is perfect for those quick edits where you don't want the pop-up keyboard to rob you of valuable screen space.
The floating keyboard also supports Apple's new Quick Path typing method. This "swipe to type" feature has been commonplace on Android phones for a number of years, and Apple has finally decided that it has a place on iOS too. It allows you to type by sliding your finger from one letter to another without removing your hand from the screen. The iPad uses machine learning to predict the words you are trying to type, and will convert your swipes into text in seconds.
Mouse Support for the iPad
Mouse support has long been a much requested feature for the iPad and although it does finally make its debut in iPadOS, it arrives in a format that you may not expect. iPadOS supports the addition of a Bluetooth or USB mouse, but this feature can only be enabled by turning on Assistive Touch in the Accessibility settings.
Here's the deal. This feature was not designed for the average user. The cursor is larger than you might want, and it may not behave like a mouse on your laptop, but it was made that way on purpose. Pointer support was included for those with mobility issues, for those who may have difficulty interacting with the touch gestures on an iPad because of a disability. However, if you want to try it, you can.
Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's Director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, acknowledged to TechCrunch that, "Accessibility features can benefit more than the original community they were designed to support." In my opinion, this is exactly how accessible devices should be designed. Touch input will always be Apple's primary method for how users should interact with an iPad, but it is great to see additional options for those that would benefit from other control methods.
iOS 13 and the iPad
Of course, iPadOS also inherits all the great features that were announced for iOS devices in iOS 13. Dark Mode, a redesigned Photos app, Memoji stickers, the new Reminders app, and a host of other features are included included in iPadOS. This makes this latest software update for iPads even bigger than ever.
Learn more by reading What's New in iOS 13 for iPhone & iPad?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jonathan Wylie