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Why iPadOS changes everything

iPad Pro dock
iPad Pro dock (Image credit: iMore)

Back in early 2015, I asked Apple and the world a question: "What if the iPad ran iPadOS?" At the time, the iPad may not have been a big "iPod touch", but it wasn't much more than an iPod touch gone IMAX.

Rather watch than read? Hit play on the vide above!

Then, slowly, every couple of years, it started getting exclusive features like Side-by-Side apps and Picture-in-Picture video. Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. Multi-window Drag-and-Drop and workspaces. But, only every couple of years. That's because the iPad didn't have its own OS like the Mac, the Watch, or even the TV. So, Apple wasn't forced to show off new features every year at WWDC. So, some years, under the crunch of iPhone or just general features, they didn't.

Now, Apple has finally made one of my longest standing dreams into reality. They've made iPadOS. And not just because it's neat or right or just for the iPad, which has long had its won experience, to have its own, named iOS variant the way most other major products do, but because of the demands that come with it having its own, named variant.

I'm going to highlight a few major trends that show why that's so important but, the first and most cirtical reason is this: From now on, whether it's just a little like tvOS or a lot like iOS — which, ironically, was originally called iPhone OS —every year, Apple is going to have to have something to say about the iPad at WWDC. Every WWDC.

1. Mouse, Keyboard, and Voice

You could always use a keyboard with the iPad. Apple shipped one for the very first iPad, an awkward little Magic Keyboard with a stand built in. But the implementation never did much and Apple killed that accessory after a year. They got serious about it with the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard, emphasizing keyboard shortcuts and adding the Mac-style task switcher.

You can also use a mouse now. It's a new accessibility feature built off Assistive Touch. Also, and something else I've been asking for for years, Voice Control. Sure, Microsoft has had a version of this on Windows for a while, but it's still relatively fresh ground on mobile and that's an area that effects a lot of lives.

What I love about all of these new features is that, taken together, Apple has effectively decoupled interface from platform. You can now get an iPad — or iPhone for that matter — and use multitouch just like always, but now you can also use a keyboard or… and… a mouse if you need to or just want to.

Feels like another step towards end-point computing. But I'll save that explainer for another video.

2. Keyboard

Not to be outdone, the QuickType Keyboard is also growing up considerably this year. First, you can float it now. Ever since Apple took the iPad to 10.5 inches but lost the engineer who'd been making the split keyboard… causing all of us to lose the split keyboard… we've all wanted something like it brought back. This is that, just better. Pinch it, place it, thumb it.

And, yeah, for the first time you can even swipe-with-an-i to type if you prefer that to tapping. Like third party keyboards have been doing for ages, the machine learning will just figure out the pattern and pop out the words.

Also, RIP magnifier. Text editing is now blissfully direct. Touch the curser and drag slowly to move letter by letter, faster to move word by word, or along the right edge to move line by line.

Double tap to select a word, triple for a sentence, quadruple for a paragraph. Or simply, directly, select text by dragging your finger over it.

Three finger pinch to cut, like you're pulling the text right off the page, and three finger spread to paste, like you're plopping it back on.

And if you don't want to shake, shake, shake it off it undo, you can now three finger swipe for the exact same effect.

It's not arcane like painting a spell on the screen, which is the problem with some complex gesture systems. And it does take some getting used to. But, Apple has stuck to gestures that feel natural and intuitive, and make the whole iPad system feel more grown up.

3. Apple Pencil

I love Apple Pencil. After a decade of using Wacom, Apple Pencil just blew it's digitizer layer, air-gap, and reticule out of the water right out of the gate. And there's been a lot of cool stuff since, including instant markup and notes, and Apple Pencil 2. But there are a couple of things in iPadOS that start to really sharpen it up. Sorry. Had too.

Markup is even better now because you can grab an entire web page, not just the screen, which is something I want to do a lot in these videos. Also, emails, documents, all of that.

They've gotten the latency down from an impressive 20 milliseconds to an astonishing 9 milliseconds through a software update alone. No new Pencil hardware needed. Just a lot of really smart, likely really intensive optimizations to the entire pipeline, from processing to prediction.

Sidecar lets you use the Apple Pencil in place of a mouse pointer in Mac apps when using your iPad as a secondary display for your Mac. Still no multitouch support for fingers, because macOS is still not a multitouch optimized operating system, something that takes a lot of new interface and likely a couple years of pain to implement, but this is sort of not the best of both worlds but a could part of each of them… maybe?

But PencilKit is what's really cool. Place it anywhere, minimize or maximize it as and when needed, and developers can put it in any app that can use the pencil. And, yeah, hell yeah, I want it everywhere.

4. Multi-Window

In the beginning, the iPad let you look at as many apps, and instances of those apps, as you wanted to at the same time. As long as that number was one. Then, half a decade or so later, we got side-by-side apps, slide over, and picture in picture. And we could run two apps persistently, three apps in and out, even four apps with a floating video layer, all at the same time. A short time later, Safari added side-by-side within the same app.

Now, with iPadOS, Apple is taking the training wheels off. You can have as many instances of as many apps as you want. Well, currently up to the same 100 arbitrary limit as multi-tasking.

Have multiple Notes windows next to each other. Have Notes next to Safari in one workspace and next to Photos in another. You can even pull messages out of mail and replies into their own windows, at least until you send them.

Basically, if you can drag it, you can drop it into its own side-by-side window. Or drop it in the middle to take over the full screen.

And to manage it all Apple has added a version of Mission Control, the Mac's multi-workspace switcher, as well as a better slide over app switcher, and even an in-line app expose to show you existing workspaces for any app you drag to the edge. I'll make a separate video on all that.

Because, yeah, that's a lot of different switching and swapping mechanics and it does create a lot of spatial, navigation, and even cognitive overhead. I've seen some Apple people who've been using it for a while already just absolutely fly with it, so I have some hope that it'll become intuitive.

5. Capability without complexity

Apple's guiding principle here is capability without complexity, and I love that anyone who doesn't and never wanted these new features will basically never see them and can keep on one-windowing on like it's 2010.

But I also love that people like me who want to finger paint with productivity can now, essentially, throw any window we want anywhere we want any when we want.

There's a ton more stuff, of course, including full desktop Safari with download manager, fonts, USB and SD card file support, and more, so I'll be spending the next little while working on my full preview. Stay tuned.

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Rene Ritchie

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.

  • Question for you...I currently use a lightening thumbdrive which requires a 3rd party app to work. Have you tested the Files app to see if you can read/write on a lightening thumbdrive? It would be great to have that capability and not have to use a 3rd party app. Thanks for the review also!
  • I'm wondering this now too.
  • All this seems to kind of blur the lines between an iPad and Mac laptops a bit more. Not that Apple would ever get rid of one or the other but feature parity seems to be much closer.
  • I am a bit puzzled by the desktop mode of safari and what resolution the ipad reports.
    Is the scalefactor of 2 now changed to 1, so my web page can use the native resolution of the ipad.
    I use a Soundcraft ui24r mixer and it has a webbased mixing interface. I can only unleash the full potential if it reports bach full HD or more.
    It reports back full hd, when in fullscreen mode, but still that is only a quarter of the real resolution.
  • Well, let's not get hysterical. It changes a few things.
  • LOL it is Rene so of course he gets hysterical
  • Exactly, it's not MAGICAL new stuff. It's stuff that has been out on other systems for a long time that apple is now implementing. I.E. Trying to become a surface. Which is not a bad thing. The more surface like the ipad can become the better. They also still need to embrace touch. They are inching closer to that. They are about 2 years away from admitting their mistake and giving the mac full touch. This new "tech" where you use your ipad instead of a full touchscreen is just the next progressive step until "We are pleased to introduce FULL TOUCH on mac. Never before has it been so easy to interact with a computer" (cue the forced applause and cheering from the shills in the audience). First it was the touch bar (went over like a lead fart), Now its this half ***'ed setup where you need to use an ipad to give your mac touch. Please apple.....Just admit you are wrong with touch screen and move forward. 2 in 1 macbook, imac touch, both with pen support etc. It's coming folks, they just have to get the "courage" to admit their mistake.
  • "The more surface like the ipad can become the better." Um, no. Windows 10 makes a horrible tablet. 8.1 was WAY better. The more iPad like the Surface can become, the better.
  • WHAT? You want a big phone? My surface was way better than my ipad is. The only reason I really purchased my ipad was for the texture app. Now that's gone. I have moved to Issuu for my magazine reading and it's on every device. It works great on my dell 2 in 1, ipad etc. Therefore I am getting a new surface and my wife is taking over my ipad. I really only use the browser on it anymore. Apps are really overplayed now. the only apps i use on my phone are the hilton app, gps and music. I really don't use any of the rest anymore. The surface is a way more functional device, proven by apple's shifting the ipad towards the same design. Pencil, smart keyboard, now mouse support. They obviously think it's a better implementation of the form factor or they would not be doing all of this.
  • The only way in which the Surface was more functional, was that it ran Windows desktop apps, which is often a double-edged sword given that they aren't all optimised for touch. The iPad just needs some more professional-level apps, Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro, Xcode, and more tools for software/web development
  • Big phone? Huh? The iPhone is a pocketable iPad. My iPads are way better than a Windows 10 laptop with a detachable keyboard. That's what every Surface device is. Besides, Windows 10 blows donkey a.s.s. The first version of Windows I do not want. I have used every version of Windows since 3.0. I even used Vista. Windows 10 drove me to this Mac. Windows 8.1 tablets were much better than any Windows 10 "tablet". I simply cannot tolerate forced "updates". I will decide when/if to install my updates, ThankYouVeryMuch.
  • I decide when my computer updates too. I don't understand that argument. It says there is an update available, I just say yes or no. simple. And no, the iphone is not a pocketable ipad, the ipad is a gigantic iphone.
  • The iPhone and iPad run iOS (iPadOS is still iOS, it's just branding), so the iPhone gets mostly any iPad features, outside of things that don't really fit the iPhone screen size and the Apple Pencil (which is unfortunate, I'd like the Apple Pencil on the iPhone). According to what it says online, Windows 10 will automatically install certain updates unless you edit the registry or use the Group Policy editor, there's no way for the average non-technical user to do this through the Settings UI (correct me if I'm wrong), which is a little annoying, although at the same time I can somewhat understand because the amount of computers I used to have to fix because someone disabled updates was crazy.
  • My only question is, will PencilKit work with the Apple Pencil (why didn't they call it the iPencil?) first generation.
  • The "i" nomenclature isn't really used anymore, only for products which carried that name from the start (iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac).
  • they should call everything "apple - whatever at this point". i is so played out, and Ive'y. Time to move on from the ivepad or ivepod.