Apple just unveiled some of the most significant changes to the iPad line ever as it continues making these tablets ever better computers for professionals. The company even went so far as to free them from iOS — from now on, they run iPadOS.
Other dramatic changes include allowing applications to open multiple windows, a home screen redesign, improvements to the Files app, and more.
iPadOS not iOS
Since the original iPad debuted in 2010, these tablets have run iOS, the same operating system as the iPhone. That’s changing with the next version, which will be called iPadOS.
This forked version will still have access to the App Store and third-party software written for iPhones will run on it. But the name reflects that iOS and iPadOS have different focuses.
Multi-window support for applications
A major change in iPadOS allows applications to open multiple windows. This improved version of Split View will enable applications like Apple Pages to display two word processing documents side by side, or multiple Notes. Safari has been capable of this for years, and now it’s been extended to additional apps.
And the feature goes beyond just Apple’s own software. Today’s demonstration during the keynote for WWDC 2019 included two Microsoft Word documents on screen simultaneously. It’s not yet clear if third-party developers will have to modify their software to take advantage of this new feature.
Home screen redesign, better Slide Over
The iPad home screen has always been essentially the iPhone screen stretched out, which isn’t a very efficient use of space. iPadOS borrows from Android OS to allow widgets to appear on the home screen.
iPads have been able to display two applications at the same time for years, with a third “floating” above the others, and then sliding off the screen when not needed. iPadOS makes this Slide Over feature more useful by greatly simplifying switching between the apps that are displayed. Pulling up a list of previous Slide Over apps then going back to an earlier one just requires a couple of quick gestures.
Access to external drives through Files
The USB-C port in the 2018 iPad Pro makes connecting to USB drives a snap, but iOS 12 could only import images off these, and only if the pictures were in a few folders. Apple just gave iPads much greater access to the contents of removable media.
With iPadOS, these tablets can copy files to drives connected to the USB-C port, and import files from anywhere on a removable drive. This is somewhat amazing considering Apple’s decade-long refusal to put a microSD card slot in its iPhone, and a sign that iPadOS is distinctly different from iOS.
In addition, the Files app shows rich meta data for files, it can list files and folders in columns, and the app supports iCloud folder sharing.
New gestures for text editing
Apple created a new system for interacting with text for iPadOS. Instead of tapping and holding to bring up a magnifying glass, users will move around an on-screen cursor. And there are new three-finger gestures to cut, copy, paste and undo.
The on-stage demonstration of these features during WWDC was something of a struggle, likely causing some trepidation among people who’ll be using these gestures.
Desktop-Class web browsing
Apple promised today that the Safari web browser in iPadOS will be “desktop-class.” That means it will automatically load the desktop version of websites, not the mobile one. In addition, the company promises this browser will handle web apps like Google Docs, Squarespace and WordPress very well, something that can’t always be said about the iOS version.
The upcoming version of Safari will also include a download manager, 30 new keyboard shortcuts and enhancements to tab management.
iPad as external display
iPadOS and macOS Catalina 10.15 will work together to enable iPads to function as second screens for Macs. There are third-party tools that can already do this, like Luna Display, but Apple is baking it into its operating systems.
This might make more MacBook users interested in owning an iPad.
No mouse for you [Updated]
At least one features thought to be coming in this operating system version didn’t make the cut. Today’s WWDC keynote made no mention of mouse support, despite the promises in unconfirmed reports.
Update: Apple didn’t mention of this feature, but mouse support is reportedly in iPadOS nonetheless.