Cue the opening soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odysseyand you’ll get a sense of how revolutionary I believe iPadOS will be for tablet users. iPadOS is still several weeks from its formal release to the general public, but after using the beta version for the past month, I’m convinced that it will have significant repercussions in the tablet space as well as the traditional portable sector. If you’re contemplating a new iPad purchase or upgrade, iPadOS will go a long way towards convincing you to step up to a larger format (12.9″) iPad Pro. It genuinely has the potential of replacing your traditional MacBook portable or Windows 10 laptop. It also gives credence to the rumors that Apple may introduce a lower cost large-format iPad over the next couple of months.
First a little background: as a seasoned business traveler, I’m always in search of ways to slim down my travel bag. On my business trips, I typically bring an iPad for content consumption and my trusty HP Spectre X360 13″ notebook for content creation. I cannot tell you how thrilled I would be if I could somehow jettison most of the peripherals and cables that accompany me on my travels in exchange for a single device. My chiropractor would undoubtedly be appreciative as well. Enter iPadOS.
The new operating system, unveiled at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference back in June, is essentially a superset of iOS that has scores of features designed to take advantage of the larger screen real estate that iPads offer. While Apple has been slowly adding features to iOS over the past few years to expand the iPad’s functionality, iPadOS is a giant step forward in that direction. It still has a few gaps, in my opinion, that need addressing if it is going to fully replace my laptop while I’m on the road, but it’s getting tantalizingly close. Let’s take a closer look.
What do I like best about iPadOS?
iPadOS has literally hundreds of new features—far more than can be covered in this column—so I’ll limit my coverage to what I see as the top four new features. Keep in mind that I’ve been using the public beta version of iPadOS, and while it’s mostly feature-complete, there’s still fine-tuning and optimization going on.
#1: Overall iPad usability gets a giant boost: iPadOS adds several useful features that we tend to take for granted in Windows or MacOS. For example, you can conveniently pin widgets to the left side of the home screen. You can also now have two apps anchored side-by-side, with even a third app floating over the top. You can also open up multiple windows of the same app and swipe through them, similar to the way that you switch apps today on a traditional iPhone.
#2: A full embrace of external storage devices: By allowing the iPad’s Lightning or USB-C port (depending on what model you have) to be used with adapters to connect to external USB storage devices, consumers can now easily share files utilizing the Files app in iOS and iPadOS. This is not a trivial new feature—it really brings the iPad (and iPhone by extension) significantly closer to the same type of file sharing functionality that has been available in MacOS and Windows for over 20 years.
#3: Safari gets a big upgrade: Consumers will appreciate the fact that the iPad’s Safari browser is now fully-featured, giving them the exact same experience they’re accustomed to on their PCs. Why is this important? Some web sites accessed on a mobile device still have a tendency to get “gummed up” from a formatting or functionality standpoint. The upgraded Safari browser embedded in iPadOS will go a long way towards eliminating this phenomenon. And did I mention that Web sites look spectacular on iPadOS?
#4: Mouse support finally comes to iPad: Apple finally decided to add traditional mouse support to the iPad, which can be enabled wirelessly via Bluetooth. While this facilitates a traditional desktop-like experience, be forewarned that Apple’s implementation is still somewhat handcuffed—the mouse pointer cannot be reduced, creating some precision challenges. Having said that, mouse support is a godsend for applications like MicrosoftExcel or PowerPoint. I expect Apple to enhance this capability over time, and I’m sure it will be embraced by many users when iPadOS is formally released in September.
Have I jettisoned my laptop yet?
All of this begs the question—have these great new features in iPadOS allowed me to move to a single device yet for traveling? The answer is a qualified “yes.” I’ve taken my iPadOS-enabled iPad Pro without my HP laptop on a couple of business trips so far without any significant incident, though I must admit that I’ve haven’t put to the real test yet: creating a PowerPoint presentation from scratch. I’m still getting used to the new gestures required to enable multiple windows on the iPad Pro, but the good news is that I suspect my learning curve will be steep. I’ve also had to invest in a hub (I like the HyperDrive 6-in-1 USB-C Hub) which allows me to add a USB-A, MicroSD/SD memory card, an additional USB-C, a 3.5mm audio jack, and HDMI support so that I have device connectivity while I’m on the road. I currently use Apple’s expensive Smart Keyboard, though I’m not thrilled with its mediocre typing experience. I’m contemplating buying one of the keyboard cases from Brydge that essentially converts your iPad or iPad Pro into a traditional clamshell portable form factor.
Some closing thoughts
I would encourage users to wait another 4 or 5 weeks for the release of the official version of iPadOS—the latest beta versions are still buggy and prone to mysteriously restarting your iPad. Having said that, I would absolutely postpone any laptop notebook purchase decision; I suspect iPadOS would make anyone think twice about buying a new portable. At the very least, it will give you ample justification to buy a 12.9″ model. It’s a real game-changer, and I can’t recommend it enough.