Apple Splits iPad from iOS, Launches iPadOS at WWDC

After more than a decade of operating the iPhone and iPad under a single OS, Apple has made the bold move of finally recognizing the reality that is both the current state of iPad app development as well as granting the freedom necessary to realize the vision of the iPad Pro as a fully functional laptop replacement. The recognition of a separate OS also brings the iPad in line with Apple's acknowledgement of its other dedicated platform operating systems such as watchOS for Apple Watch hardware and tvOS for Apple TV. However, Apple could have gone further by doing away with the iOS label entirely by renaming iOS as iPhoneOS. Perhaps that will happen next year. In the meantime, Apple's next release of iOS for the iPad will incorporate all the new features in iOS 13 plus iPad-specific features exclusive to that hardware platform. Let's take a quick look at what Apple announced today that will be part of the new iPadOS experience.

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Related: iOS 13 Is On Its Way: Dark Mode, Updated Maps, Improved Privacy & Security & Siri's New Voice

Until now, developers intending to release their iOS applications as universal apps by taking advantage of both the iPhone and iPad UI elements, scaling and aesthetics also had to contend with multiple screen formats and resolutions. In the case of the iPad, developers also had to account for recent additions such as split views, slide over panels and resizable video playback windows. These elements often bloated iOS apps with iPad-specific resources that would never be used on an iPhone. Now that the iPad has its own OS, Apple has ramped up the iPad's productivity capabilities, in line with the tech giant's push to brand its tablet as a laptop replacement.

Slide-Over Panels 

These slide-out panels have been around since iOS 11 but have been hobbled by the fiddly nature of one-time use due to their lack of persistence between different apps that supported such temporary columnar margin views. With the new enhanced panels in iPadOS, slide-over panels can now retain their state and users can select and cycle through various slide out panels they have previously configured and interacted with. This essentially works like an App Switcher for slide-out panels, and should further optimize the efficiency of using an iPad.

Files App Update

The File Browser app also gets an update to support iCloud folder and SMB (i.e., Microsoft Windows network folder shares) file sharing. But unlike the iPhone version of the File Browser app, iPadOS's File Browser supports the ability to read and write to USB-C thumb drives, making file transfers between a Mac, an iPad, and a Windows PC with USB-C ports an effortless task.

Desktop Class Browsing Comes to Safari

Apple's Safari web browser also gets elevated to desktop OS web page rendering status on iPadOS. This means that websites will interpret Safari on iPadOS as a full-fledged desktop browser so that websites no longer look like the reduced mobile version on a huge display. This change further elevates the iPad Pro to laptop replacement levels thanks to the fact that websites made for the laptop and desktop experience will render accordingly on an iPad.

Font Management

Another iPadOS feature that will please designers is actual on-device font management. Font management has been one of those often requested features since the initial release of the iPad, but its inclusion potentially brings a boatload of baggage from the desktop publishing and graphic design world, requiring cumbersome third-party font management software to prevent font name collisions and memory gobbling. It will be interesting to see how this much requested and hotly anticipated new iPadOS feature evolves, as well as see how Apple intends to prevent the messy stew of font management from the desktop days to creep over to the iPad.

New Text Editing Gestures

Apple is also introducing new text editing gestures to iPadOS for copy, paste, and undo. Selecting text no longer shows a pop-up magnifying glass. Simply drag your finger over the text intended to be selected, and the text is highlighted accordingly. Copying that selected text is initiated by a three finger pinch. With a tap of a finger on the screen, move the cursor to where you want to paste the copied text and reverse that three finger gesture by spreading out the fingers to paste the text. If you want to undo that paste, simply swipe the three fingers to the right to swipe away the changes.

Faster Apple Pencil

Lastly, Apple has improved the Apple Pencil experience with the iPad by reducing the latency of the sampling rate from 20 milliseconds to 9 milliseconds. This will make markups using the pencil glide even more smoothly and realistically than before. Apple expects even more Pencil usage in iPadOS apps with the release of its PencilKit API so developers can take advantage of the full capabilities Apple Pencil has to offer.

After so many years to trying to keep the iPad in its iPhone-centric cage, iPadOS allows Apple to finally release the beast that will be able to take advantage of the desktop power that the latest iPad Pro hardware is capable of.  It will take a few more years before Apple's vision is fully realized, but the die has been cast to do just that with iPadOS.

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Mike Riley's picture

Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.