iPadOS Beta Hands-on Review: Should You Update Now?
September 19, 1:57 p.m. ET Update: iPadOS is coming even sooner than anticipated, details below.
I've been kicking iPadOS around on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the Laptop Mag offices, and I've gotta say I'm pretty impressed. From obvious changes to welcome tweaks, and one new mode that's being used by the folks Apple didn't make it for, this new iPadOS — with its improved multitasking, a rejiggered home screen, and better markup — certainly feels like the dawn of a new day.
Apple told The Verge that iPadOS (and iOS 13.1) are coming out on Sept. 24, 6 days ahead of the original launch date (Sept. 30) noted in an early iPad press release. iPadOS will come to "iPad Air 2 and later, all iPad Pro models, iPad 5th generation and later, and iPad mini 4 and later."
The Home screen takes another leap forward
The iPad's huge home screen is finally evolving. You can now place 30 apps on a single screen, a leap past the 20-app limit of previous years. That's due to an overdue change of Apple’s OS using more of the screen by scrunching the app icons in tighter.
If you swipe right on the home screen, you'll open up iPad's widgets, which look a lot like the same extras seen in the iPhone's Today screen (because they are).
These are neat-to-OK, depending on the apps you use, and the bigger clock is nice, but I wish there was more going on here. Still, even this minor change is a good thing.
Multitasking gets multiple new perks
Next up, split-view has one major new perk: getting to use both sides of the screen for the same app. I've wanted this for multi-tab web-surfing for a while, as you formerly had to split your browsing across two different apps, which is bad for a unified history and logins.
Slide-over mode, the way to get three apps on screen at once, with a third that floats on top, also got a new trick. Now, you can create a stack of slide-over apps — by dragging them out of the dock and on top of each other — so you can easily switch between them by swiping sideways on the little white or black bar on the bottom of the slide-over apps.
While the split-view change feels overdue, slide-over looks and feels so clever, and makes iPadOS feel genuinely different from iOS.
Trying to find a specific instance of one of your favorite apps that you've split across several views? Long press on an app and select Show All Windows to see every version of Safari (or whatever app you choose), and you’ll see a + icon in the top corner for opening another page of that app.
iPad mouse functionality is good (and probably not for you)
Many folks see the iPad's huge screen and keyboard and just think "something's missing," and often claim that's a trackpad or a mouse. While iPadOS 13 brings us mouse compatibility, I don't know how many will love it in its current form.
First off, you need to dig deep into Settings to enable the iPadOS cursor, which feels about nine steps too many for just plugging in a mouse. Fortunately, it will work with Bluetooth mice, like the MX Master 2S I tried it with, without an adapter.
Next, the cursor requires you enable AssistiveTouch, the big white dot on your screen that's used to help individuals who need assistance with gestures and complicated controls. This doesn't look great, and neither does the black circular cursor under it. This appears un-Apple-like because it's not meant for those of us with full use of our hands, but instead forpeople with limited motor skills.
Once you get all of that done, the iPad's cursor support is pretty decent. Everything works just like a mouse should, but if yours has a high-res sensor (such as the 4,000-dots-per-inch [DPI] sensor in mine), it will be highly sensitive, and you won’t be able to adjust it.
Apple didn't advertise this feature, and I'm happy enough that it works. Splitting my screen between two Safari tabs by dragging a link to the opposite side of the slate's screen worked well, and if I want to keep using this feature, I will (I just don't see a need to do so now, especially when mouse support doesn't feel as perfect as I want).
Virtual keyboard, cursor and item selection are all smarter
While I love a good iPad Pro keyboard cover, I must admit that the tablet's onscreen keyboard is great. First, pinch on the keyboard (or hold the keyboard button and select Floating) to dislodge the keyboard and shrink it down, so you can place it where you want and make it easier to tap with just one hand. This is something I begged for in an article about iPad multi-tasking, as the giant keyboard often covers other things on your screen.
There's also a swipe-based typing trick, for those who love those third-party keyboards. This feature is built right in, no setting to adjust. As Apple loves to say, it just … works.
Apple's also brought new life to its cursor, which you can drag and drop around a document. It’s like a robot arm picking up toys, except this actually works and is one of the better-performing new beta features. Oh, and after you select text or a photo, a three-finger pinch will copy that item, and then the opposite gesture (a three-finger outwards flicking gesture) performs the paste.
And here's a trick you might miss: Do a two-finger swipe on a list of items in, say, Mail or Notes to select them as a group of things. It's really cool and should help with performing actions to batches of items at the same time, whether that's decluttering your inbox or moving files around.
Files gets deeper
Apple answered a long-standing request from many by allowing the Files app to connect with third-party storage devices that plug right into the iPad's Lightning or USB Type-C ports, and that's great. Or at least it is for those who have bought accessories with those ports, or own the prerequisite adapters. As someone who falls into the latter group, it's with a big sigh that I say "great, another adapter to remember."
The other new feature in Files is a tab view, which makes it look a lot more like macOS's Finder and even lets you see file metadata.
Screenshots get a deluxe treatment
You once had to click on different corners of the iPad to perform a screenshot, but Apple's simplified things in a great way. Now, when you drag the Pencil's tip from a corner of the iPad to the middle of its screen, the display goes into markup mode, where you've got a tray of stylus tools.
And if you're doodling on a webpage that spills over the edges of your screen, tapping Full Page mode gives you a single, giant capture of everything you're looking at. This last bit is so great that I hope iOS gets something like it, as screenshot-stitching apps are never really that good.
Evolved Apple apps
Safari's playing with the big boys now, as it now calls for the standard, desktop versions of websites and not the mobile-optimized versions that rarely made sense for this screen. For example, Google Docs looks great via the web on iPadOS, and a bit better than its app version, at least in showing group collaboration comments on the side of the screen.
That doesn't mean that you're getting the same Webkit rendering engine that desktop Safari has, or the option for the true versions of Firefox or Chrome, or extensions for any of these browsers – adjustments that I'd prefer to see.
On iPadOS, you're getting the smarter, optimized version of the Photos app, which is more than welcome — and also seen in iOS 13 and macOS Catalina. This new app's Day, Month and Year views focus on the images that Apple thinks you'll prefer, hides screenshots, and tries to be more magazine-like.
Other updated first-party apps include Reminders, which now has sections for filtering your to-do's and Notes, where there's a gallery view. Also, Fonts are coming to iPadOS. They're not here yet, they'll be sold in the App Store, and they're a giant checklist item for folks who are heavy on Adobe (and Adobe-like) apps, such as the full-feature Photoshop that's coming any day now.
Sidecar mode: cool, but limited… and wonky
Sidecar allows your iPad to double as a touchscreen for Macs running macOS Catalina. I go in-depth on this in my macOS Catalina beta review, but this implementation disappointed me.
Sure, it's neat that you can use the iPad as a second screen for your Mac — even better that it works wirelessly — but for anything other than using virtual versions of the Touch-Bar controls and keyboard modifier buttons (Shift, Command, etc), you need to use the Apple Pencil. This is because macOS is designed for a small cursor and not our fingertips. It doesn't really feel like a cool new feature, because, at least in my testing, it proved a bit unstable.
Should you install iPadOS now?
The biggest grievance I have with iPadOS 13 is that it doesn't feel like something I want to use regularly. Not for the features, mind you, but because of its very Beta-buggy nature. The most errors I've seen happen in Sidecar, especially when one screen has gone to sleep and the other isn't reacting right and shows glitches.
These new multi-tasking tricks rock, the small keyboard is both useful and kinda adorable, and whole-website screenshots are pretty cool. And Apple might have silenced the folks begging for mouse support, even if the implementation isn’t totally user-friendly yet.
While I've seen decent enough performance at times, I'm here to use the iPad for writing and getting things done. iOS 12 is more than good enough at the basics, and this fall isn't too far away. That being said, I can't wait for iPadOS 13 to be finished.
Credit: Laptop Mag
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