This time last year we had new, incredibly powerful iPad Pro hardware, but what we didn't have was the iOS software to truly unlock all of its potential.
iOS 12 had been, in large part, a performance and stability release, and I loved that. Loved it so much I'm going to repeat the need to repeat it every year basically ad nauseam Infinitum until it happens.
But, we were missing things. Especially things that would let the iPad be the iPad. I'd been asking for an iPadOS for like 5 years. Something that would keep the iOS underpinnings but let the experience be as unique, the way the watch and TV had been treated basically since launch.
And… just when I'd all but given up hope, Apple gave it to us. iPadOS. Along with many of the features many of us had been asking for since Steve Jobs had first sat down with it in that big comfy chair.
Most of the features… but not all of them, and not all the way. Just the other day I wrote about the return to focus on reliability and performance enhancements, and a few new features I'd love to see in iOS 14 for the iPhone. Now, I'm going to roll right into the iPad.
Previously on iPadOS...
In my re-review of the 2018 iPad Pro, I listed 6 things that I thought it needed to become a viable laptop alternative to most people most of the time.
I wanted the ability to plug in an SD card, an SSD drive, any type of storage and just Dyson down files. But also the ability to plug in any USB-C accessory and have it just work. I wanted some form of trackpad support so I wouldn't have to take my hands off the keyboard to navigate while typing. I wanted real websites, not the phone versions blown up to pad size. I wanted the ability to handle multiple audio streams so I could podcast from the iPad and not always have to run back to my Mac. I wanted some form of real-but-not-full Xcode so developers could build iPad apps, you know, on the iPad. Lastly, I wanted a Guest mode, so I could give my iPad to a colleague, even a kid, and not have to worry about also giving them all my data. And iPadOS gave us some of that.
The Files app is still missing some features, not to make it more Finder-like but just to make it more functional. Like a progress bar. I don't care if it's a lie. I'm human. I need that kind of lie.
Mouse and trackpad support is an offshoot of assistive touch and not yet a full-on pointer system. Desktop Safari has been really great for me. Still nothing in terms of multiple audio source support, though, or Xcode, or GuestBoard.
Like I said in my iOS 14 wishlist video earlier this week, iOS 13 was so jam-packed it ended up being one of the most problematic releases from Apple in recent memory.
So, I'd definitely love it if Apple went back and, iOS 12-style, gave their best and brightest half the year to just make it what every release should always be — delightful.
But, me being me, I still have a wishlist. A restrained list, given what I just said, but with some wishes on it none-the-less.
Apple has this way of just trolling us. Like how we all wanted Night Mode on the iPhone and they gave us Night Mode on the Watch. Then on the Apple TV. Then on the Mac. Basically everything but the iPhone until last year when we hashtag finally got for all of iOS, including the new iPadOS.
Multi-user on the iPad, or the ability to switch between different accounts, environments, and preferences, has been similar.
The Mac has had multi-user basically forever. Apple teased a fairly slick version of it for the iPad but only for education managed devices. Then, last year, the Apple TV got multiple account support, if not full-on multi-user.
Phones are hyper-personal, so there's no real pressure for multi-user on them. TVs are generally family devices if you have a family, so it makes sense there. iPads exist in some quantum cat-box state in between. Very personal for some people, very shared for other families, even businesses.
And right now, iPadOS only serves the former and does nothing for the latter.
In a perfect world, the iPad would just recognize your finger print or Face ID, and let you into your account, and then you wouldn't have to worry about your parents seeing your text messages, your kids deleting your game data, everyone's music picks messing up everyone else's music recs, or Bob on the day shift leaving those gross memes on the browser. Because dammit, Bob, you've been HR'd.
Apple has done a pretty good job building out family features. They could always be smoother, easier, better, sure. But one part that still stands out as needing some serious love is photo and video sharing.
We've had photostreams in the past, we have iCloud Photo Sharing now, you can even like and comment. So social.
But, a proper shared library could be even cooler. When you set up your family, you get an extra tab in the Photos app called family, and then anyone in the family can share any album or individual photo or video into it. With all the same manual and smart organizational features the main, individual library enjoys.
Take a photo, shoot a video, tap and hold, share with family. Done.
A decade later and the iPad is still missing several of the apps that come with the iPhone by default. Urban legend holds that Steve Jobs just didn't like the way the Weather or Calculator widgets looked on the big iPad screen.
But that was then, this is now, and scads of indie developers have shown just how great those types of apps can look on the iPad. Apple's HI — human interface — team could no doubt knock them out the Apple Park as well. And, since consistency is a customer-facing feature, they really, really, truly, sincerely should.
Beyond those, though, are Health, Activity, and Watch.
The iPhone is great for entering, collecting, and triaging data on the go. The Mac is terrific for editing and processing tons of data when you have the time. But the iPad sits in between, quick enough to ingest on the go but big enough to aggregate and report when you have time to stop.
Just the idea of sitting back and going through all the health graphs and activity trends on that glorious iPad screen makes me want those apps on that screen yesterday.
Watch is the big one, though. One day the watch will be fully independent from the iPhone, like the iPhone is now from the Mac and PC. But, until then, and even then, being able to see and manage everything relating to the Apple Watch on the big iPad display, including and especially watch faces, would be phenomenal.
And for people who don't have an iPhone but do have an iPad, it would be transformative.
I'm going to use Siri as the name for all of this, because Apple uses it for Shortcuts, but what I mean by Siri is that combination of machine-learned smarts and automations, both preset and suggested.
Siri Shortcuts by itself is terrific and, I very much hope, the very first building blocks towards a voice-enabled opportunistic programming system. Yes, like Tony Stark and Jarvis.
But where it also gets interesting is when they're no longer a discreet thing and just part of the system in general.
For example, it's long been rumored that Apple's working on a next-generation Mail app that's a lot more artificially intelligent. Which is exactly what it needs to be.
What I mean is, if there was a construct that allowed for stripped-down, sped up, Siri Shortcuts-like functionality to exist, at the system level, inside every app, that would be a game-changer.
There's just so much sorting, so many batch tasks — you've never opened any of these emails, do you want to unsubscribe? Do you want to archive or delete all similar messages? You've searched for this three times now, should I create a smart mailbox for you? I've created mail groups based on your six most frequent interactions. You've opened this email three times today. I'm going to pin it for you for the next 48 hours. You snoozed this email last week, do you want to reply to your mother or should I accidentally delete it for you?
There are a bunch of apps where this kind of functionality would be terrific, of course, and between apps, but there's also enough specificity needed that I'd love to see it built out on an app by app basis.
So, our assistants can become closer to actually assisting us.
Sure, there's a ton of other stuff I'd love to see in both iOS and iPadOS eventually. But, again, what I'd love even more is for Apple to take their time and make sure each piece is rock solid before rolling out the next piece, especially as we continue to transition from its NextStep roots to what really comes next.
So, let me know — what do you want to see in iPadOS 14 this June?
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.