Apple has a new mobile operating system specifically for iPad tablets. It's called iPadOS, and it's based on iOS, Apple's operating system for iPhone.

iPadOS features an updated Home screen, new multitasking options, improved Apple Pencil functionality, support for external drives, folder sharing in Files, and more. Here's everything you need to know about it, including when you can try it on your iPad.

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What is iPadOS?

When Apple debuted iPadOS at WWDC, it only said "iPadOS". However, developers and journalists alike noted the technical version number is iPadOS 13. If true, that would line it up with iOS 13, the next major operating system update coming to the iPhone. Both updates will officially land for consumers this autumn, so it would make sense for Apple to launch iPadOS as iPadOS 13.

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The main thing to realise about iPadOS is that it's built on the same foundation as iOS - but it has unique, powerful capabilities best suited to the larger display of the iPad. It also includes almost all the features that will be available in iOS 13. We suspect iPadOS and iOS will get more distinct as time goes on, with the iPad receiving features that enable a computer experience.

iPadOS: The biggest new features

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Multitasking with apps

A feature called Slide Over allows you to drag an app from the dock and float it on your screen in spaces. Now, you can have multiple apps at once in Slide Over view, and you can scroll through these apps and switch between them in a new carousel interface. Split View now supports multiple windows from the same app, too, so you can do things like open two Safari windows and see them side by side.

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New home screen

There's a new home screen on the iPad. With iPadOS, widgets now live on the side, next to all of your apps, and your favourite widgets can be pinned to the front page. The idea is that you can add the Today Widget from the left side of the screen onto the home screen itself, so you can get your at-a-glance info (like news headlines, weather, events) more seamlessly when your iPad is in landscape.

Plus, you can now have more apps on a single home screen, since Apple made icons smaller.

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Sidecar with Catalina

Your iPad can now be used as a second display for your Mac, as long as it's running the upcoming MacOS Catalina update. Sidecar even allows you to use your iPad as a drawing tablet for your Mac. To complement this new feature, Apple has updated Apple Pencil so that it has less latency and new tools. For instance, you can now capture an entire webpage, document, or email and do a full-page markup.

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Text-editing gestures

Apple added some new text-editing gestures to iPadOS. For instance, you can pick up the cursor and drag it exactly where you want. You can also quickly select a chunk of text by dragging your finger over it. Meanwhile, a double tap selects a word, a triple tap selects a sentence, and a four taps selects a paragraph. Copying text happens with a three-finger pinch, and then you just un-pinch to paste.

To undo anything, just swipe left with three fingers.

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QuickPath Typing

Apple is updating its default keyboard with a new swiping function reminiscent of SwiftKey, Swype, Gboard, and others. Apple is calling this the “QuickPath” typing keyboard. It’s not a massively new feature, but it’s new to Apple, and also cool. Eventually, machine learning is supposed to recognise your path drawing patterns, too, and it'll be able to convert the words, helping you type even faster.

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Keyboard shortcuts

Apple said Safari for iPadOS will get about 30 new shortcuts, including these:

  • Use default font size in Reader (Command + 0)
  • Open link in background (Command + tap)
  • Toggle downloads (Command + Alt/Option)
  • Open link in new window (Command + Alt + tap)
  • Use selection for Find (Command + E)
  • Email this page (Command + I)
  • Open link in new tab (Command + Shift + tap)
  • Decrease Reader text size (Command + -)
  • Zoom in (Command + +)
  • Zoom out (Command + -)
  • Save webpage (Command + S)
  • Change focused element (Alt/Option + tab)
  • Focus Smart Search field (Command + Alt/Option + F)
  • Dismiss web view in app (Command + W)
  • Increase Reader text size (Command + +)
  • Download linked file (Alt + tap)
  • Add link to Reading List (Shift + tap)
  • Close other tabs (Command + Alt/Option + W)
  • Scroll around screen (arrow keys)
  • Paste without formatting (Command + Shift + Alt/Option + V)
  • New Private tab (Command + Shift + N)
  • Actual size (Command + 0)
  • Open search result (Command + Return)
  • Toggle bookmarks (Command + Alt/Option + 1)
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Safari improvements

Speaking of Safari, it's getting a massive update so it natively supports desktop browsing on the iPad. You'll no longer be forced to view mobile sites, which is a step in the right direction in terms of offering customers a computer-like experience. There will also be a Download Manager, so you can download media, documents, and ZIP files and access them in a new Downloads folder.

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Files app

Not only is Files getting a new Downloads folder, but it will also now support shared folders through iCloud, so you can and anyone else can collaborate on a file and all your changes will be synced in real time. And if you use a work or home server for files, you can get access to them via Files now. Just connect to the server through Files, and then you'll have full access to everything you need.

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External storage

This is technically a Files app update, but it's also perhaps the biggest iPadOS feature: Files can now connect to an external hard drive, SD card reader, and even a USB drive. You'll need the right accessory, naturally, but this means the iPad could finally, truly replace your computer.

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Font management

The final major change in iPadOS is that you will be able to download and purchase fonts from the App Store and use them in your documents. This is wonderful for graphic designs who want to create more directly on their iPad without having to go back to their computer to use a font.

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Is that it?

Nope! iPadOS has most of iOS 13's new features, too, including various performance updates, a system-wide Dark Mode, refreshed Photos and Maps apps, a new Find My app, Sign-in with Apple functionality, and more.

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iPadOS: When can you try it?

The developer preview of iPadOS is now available to Apple Developer Program members, while a public beta program will be available later this month. It will fully launch this autumn for iPad Air 2 and later, all iPad Pro models, iPad fifth-generation and later, and iPad Mini 4 and later.