Apple has a new mobile operating system specifically for iPad and it's out now. 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. We've been testing it on two iPads - the iPad mini 5 and 2017 iPad Pro 12.9.

Although the screenshots here don't reflect the newer Face ID-toting iPad Pro, everything is pretty much the same aside from the 'swipe up from the bottom to go home' gesture on newer Apple devices. Here's what you need to know.

What is iPadOS?

When Apple debuted iPadOS at WWDC, it only said "iPadOS". However, it was soon noted the technical version number is iPadOS 13 to line it up with iOS 13, the next major operating system update coming to the iPhone. 

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

iPadOS and iOS will get more distinct as time goes on, with the iPad receiving more computer-like features. It's fair to say that things are at the beginning of the process and it'll be really interesting to see how the iPad evolves over the next few years. 

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iPadOS: The biggest new features

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New home screen

There's a new home screen on the iPad (main picture). 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. You can now get your at-a-glance info (like news headlines, weather, events) even more seamlessly when your iPad is in landscape mode. You don't have to have the today view there if you don't want it. 

Something that's been implemented across the board is that you now get more apps on a single home screen. The icons have been made smaller to accommodate this, but it makes so much more sense - they never needed to be so spaced out. 

Coincidentally, you can now add Folders to the dock (above), enabling you to access even more apps easily. 

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Dark mode

As with iOS 13, there's now a dark mode. You don't have to have it implemented all the time - because you can choose for dark mode to only come into play when it actually gets dark (it's the Automatic toggle switch shown in Settings above). This is quite useful as it means your iPad won't glare at you when you decide you're going to binge-watch something at 11pm when you actually should be in bed.  

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Sidecar with Catalina

Your iPad can now be used as a totally wireless extra display for your Mac, as long as your Mac is running the macOS Catalina update (also currently available as a public beta) and, of course, you have iPadOS on your iPad.

We found that, while our Mac found another iPad that wasn't running iPadOS, it wouldn't actually connect to it. Both devices need to be on the same network as well, using the same Apple ID. Also note from the image above that there are some controls on the iPad - some standard Mac keys, keyboard shortcut and more plus along the bottom is a Touch Bar like on the top of newer MacBook Pro keyboards.

Sidecar effectively works within its own app on iPadOS, so you can switch out of it to do something else and return to it. 

This is an iPad screenshot of it in action. It's all controlled by the Displays menu in the Mac menu bar where you can connect and disconnect at will. A new menu appears if you hover over the green maximise button enabling you to send a window to another display including your iPad. 

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Sidecar even enables you to use your iPad as a drawing tablet for your Mac. To complement this new feature, Apple is updating Apple Pencil so that it has less latency - we're not sure if that's just a software update in iPadOS or whether there's some new firmware for the Pencil. And we don't know yet if it applies to both the new and old Pencils.

There are also some new tools - you can now capture an entire webpage, document, or email and do a full-page markup.

New multitasking features

This is the area that has been modified the most in iPadOS and it's a mixed bag currently. While you will get used to the new features, they aren't the most intuitive to begin with. Certainly, for novice iPad users they aren't anything like as intuitive as multitasking on a Mac or PC.

Slide Over - which enables you to drag an app from the dock and float it on your screen - isn't new, but it has changed quite significantly.

Now, you can have multiple apps at once in Slide Over. It's a collection of apps you can overlay over the main app you're working in - or over two apps you're using in Split View.

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It's probably best to think of Slide Over as a rolling carousel of your 'utility' apps - things like email, chat and Files - stuff you either need to refer to or drag things from. It's now easier than ever to move stuff between apps in iPadOS. 

Above we're dragging an image from Slide Over into our main view document. See those bars at the top and the bottom of the Slide Over window?

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The bottom bar enables you to swipe through Slide Over windows (above) or hold and flick to get to this Slide View gallery (below).

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The top bar enables you to effectively 'click and drag' the window to wherever you want, whether that's moving the Slide Over window to the other side or putting it side-by-side with another app in Split View. And you can do the reverse with a Split View app. 

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By bringing up the dock, you can drag app icons to create a new Slide Over window (above) or replace apps you have open in Split View (below). 

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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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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 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. Like the multitasking gestures, these aren't immediately intuitive and we wonder how users will even find out they're there. 

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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Safari improvements

Speaking of Safari, it's a big update this time. It now 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 you 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. 

Safari for iPadOS will also 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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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.

Files can now connect to an external hard drive, SD card reader, and even a USB drive. You'll need the right accessory, naturally.

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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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Reminders and Find My

As on iOS and macOS, Reminders has a completely new user interface (above), while Find My (below) is the new combined app for Find My Friends and Find My iPhone. The app gives you the simple option of People and Devices. And yes, the map is a bit broken on our app shown here!

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