An Apple iPad tablet running iPadOS
Photo: Apple

This fall, iPad users will be able to install iPadOS, the first-ever operating system made specifically for Apple's tablets.

The new system will be similar to the iPhone's iOS 13, also being released this fall. But with iPadOS, Apple is attempting to make the iPad a bit more like a laptop and a bit less like a really big smartphone.

An early, or beta, version of iPadOS is currently available to download from Apple for anyone with a $99-per-year developer account and is not intended for everyday consumers quite yet.

We used it on an iPad Pro for several days both at home and in the office to let you know what's being planned, and whether we think consumers will like the switch.

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Our early impressions of iPadOS are largely positive, and we believe the changes made with iPadOS will make it a more useful, multipurpose device for many consumers, and industry experts agree.

“Splitting up iOS allows more freedom so that iPad is not limited by the fact that the iPhone has a smaller screen and therefore certain features don’t make sense,” says Carolina Milanesi, technology analyst at the Creative Strategies research firm. “iPadOS helps free the power of the iPad as main computing device to more people.”

The most useful changes include easier ways to handle multiple apps and windows at the same time, a more robust web browsing experience, and support for additional hardware, like external mice and USB thumb drives.

When iPadOS launches, Apple says, it will be compatible with all iPads going back to 2014’s iPad Air 2

Opening Multiple Windows

Install iPadOS and you'll be able to place multiple windows of the same app side by side, as well as having different apps next to each other. You can open more than one window by swiping up from the bottom, or launch a new window from within an app when you get a notification.

For instance, let's say you receive a text message while writing an email in Apple’s Mail app. You can drag and hold the notification over to the side to have a small Messages window open.

And while you’re at it, you might leave a small Calendar window open to keep tabs on your schedule and a small Music window containing your favorite playlist.

This was previously not possible with the iPad, and it was one of its biggest limitations compared with a laptop.

The new operating system also has a more robust file system, making it much easier to find and launch documents.

Today's iPads and iPhones already have a Files app, but it's not as easy to use as the one on a computer. With iPadOS, you'll be able to view the full file path (e.g., iCloud Drive > Documents > Your File) at a glance.

And iPadOS automatically suggests common actions while you're reviewing files. Highlight a photo, for example, and you'll get an option to crop or rotate without having to first open a photo-editing app.

Apps, Optimized for the Big Screen

Apple says that it wants software to take better advantage of the iPad’s large screen. Two pieces of software in the beta version iPadOS already show this: an improved version of the Safari web browser and a software keyboard that can be shrunk and moved around the screen.

Apple calls the iPadOS version of Safari a “desktop class” web browser, meaning that when you visit complex websites, you should get the full-sized version instead of the shrunken down version you'd see on a smartphone or iPad running iOS 12 and older.

This worked well in our experience: Popular websites such as nytimes.com, yahoo.com, tmz.com, and, yes, ConsumerReports.org all appear just as they would on a Mac or PC, meaning you don’t have to pinch and zoom around simply to read the latest headlines, which sometimes happens pre-iPadOS.

The onscreen keyboard works well, too. New to iPadOS is what Apple calls a Floating Keyboard, which you can activate by pinching the regular onscreen keyboard. The keyboard then shrinks, and you can drag it around the screen.

This is handy because it allows you to type a quick note while keeping both hands on the iPad—the app window is where your thumb naturally rests.

Another way Apple is taking advantage of the larger screen of the iPad is by letting you permanently pin Today View (a small window containing widgets such as weather and headlines) to the left side of the screen while you’re in the main home screen. There’s still room for plenty of app icons to the right, but this gives you an immediate heads-up on some key information.

New to both iPadOS and the iPhone's iOS 13 is the ability to type much more quickly by swiping from letter to letter. This is the key feature in popular third-party keyboards, including SwiftKey and Google’s Gboard.

Expanded Hardware Support

Beyond the iPad screen, iPadOS also supports more laptop-like hardware, including Bluetooth mice and USB thumb drives. (Android tablets already support mice and thumb drives.)

With USB thumb drive support, you can now easily access any photos or other documents you have stored, either by plugging directly into the iPad or by using a relevant adapter. Of course, you can also then drag these documents over to a cloud storage service, such as iCloud or Dropbox, from within iPadOS, making them accessible on all of your other connected devices. 


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If you're in the market for a new iPad, consider these top-performing models.

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Apple iPad Mini (64GB) - 2019

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