We’ve had a few days to digest everything that was announced at WWDC21. If you missed it, you can read AppleToolBox’s post on the event, where we covered everything (EVERYTHING) that was announced. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. Today, we’re going to talk about iPadOS 15.
The WWDC21 keynote gave us our first look at the next generation of iPad software, iPadOS 15. I (and others) were hoping for a huge update, considering that Apple just released an M1 iPad Pro.
However, this iPadOS update feels pretty standard. There’s nothing to complain about. It’s just that all of the improvements seem expected. It’s more of a quality-of-life update, but there’s still some pretty cool stuff in here.
So, let’s get into it!
- Multitasking in iPadOS 15 has been significantly improved
- The widgets in iPadOS 15 will be just like the widgets in iOS
- The App Library is coming to iPad, too
- The Notes app is getting its annual update with iPadOS 15
- Quick Note is the latest addition to the Apple Pencil goodness
- Universal Control will help your iPad and Mac work together like never before
- Safari will be updated to be more like its macOS version
- External keyboards are getting a bump in iPadOS 15
- Swift Playgrounds is slightly more sophisticated
- iPadOS15 is going to look a lot like iOS 15, too
- iPadOS 15 is a step forward for iPad, albeit a small one
Multitasking in iPadOS 15 has been significantly improved
The first big change to iPadOS in this update has to do with multitasking.
For those that don’t know, multitasking is the iPad feature that lets you arrange different windows of apps alongside each other. Back in the day, you only used to have one app open at a time on iPad.
This update doesn’t fundamentally change how multitasking works. Instead, it just polishes it and makes it more intuitive in a few solid ways.
In iPadOS 15, there is a new multitasking menu. Before, the only way to start multitasking on the iPad was to use gestures. You’d have to drag and drop or swipe apps around to arrange them.
Now, you can just pick an arrangement option from the menu. You can tap Full Screen, Split View, Slide Over, and (sometimes) Center. You’ll then be taken to the Home Screen to choose which apps you want to use in these various modes.
This is also significant in that it lets you choose any apps you want. Before, you would only be able to choose apps in your iPad’s Dock. With this new menu, though, you can pick any apps for multitasking at any time.
The App Switcher now supports Split View and Slide Over apps
Another great multitasking update in iPadOS 15 is in the App Switcher. The App Switcher is the screen that shows all of your open apps in a tiled view when you swipe and hold from the bottom of the iPad.
From this view, you’ll now be able to see and create multitasking layouts. You’ll just drag and drop the apps you want to use in multitasking next to each other from this view.
This resembles the ability to place apps side by side in macOS by dragging and dropping them around in Mission Control.
You can open windows in the middle of your iPad screen and access a shelf for multi-windowed apps
A new feature coming to multitasking in iPadOS 15 is app centering. This allows you to view certain windows in the center of your screen.
This feature is pretty limited for now. It looks like it’ll only work with Mail, Messages, and Notes. However, I can see this feature being refined and added to more apps as time goes by.
The purpose of center view is to give you more room when doing things like writing a note, composing an email, or typing up a message. It’s especially useful when you have multiple apps open at once, which can make your typing area pretty squished.
The widgets in iPadOS 15 will be just like the widgets in iOS
A non-multitasking feature coming to iPadOS 15 is widgets! Widgets have been on iPadOS for a while now. However, they’ve been a far cry from the great widgets we’ve had in iOS 14. They were stuck to the left side of your iPad’s screen and not very customizable.
No more! Now, widgets on iPad will be just like they are on iOS. You’ll be able to arrange them alongside your app icons, stack them, personalize them, and all kinds of other great stuff.
The App Library is coming to iPad, too
Another iOS 14 feature that’s coming to iPadOS 15 is the App Library. Like widgets, this feature is going to be a one-to-one translation of its iPhone counterpart.
You’ll be able to hide apps from your Home Screen and access them from the App Library.
While I’m glad this feature is coming to iPad, I do think it needs some work. The iOS version is great for hiding apps, but less so for finding them. Hopefully, Apple will add better search and organization features to App Library in the future.
The Notes app is getting its annual update with iPadOS 15
I might be the only iPad adorer who doesn’t care about the Notes app. Apple, on the other hand, seems to be totally in love with this app, because they give it some hardcore updates every year.
2021 is no exception! The Notes app is getting some pretty significant updates that are going to make it more collaborative and organized.
The first important Notes update coming in iPadOS 15 is activity history and mentions. Both of these are pretty straightforward features.
Activity history will let you view the history of a note that you share with others. This way, you can see the changes other people are making to it, even when you aren’t working on it.
You can also use this feature to highlight and view the history of specific portions of a note. Pretty handy!
Shared notes will now have mentions available, too. Just like in Messages (or most communication-based apps), you can mention people working on the note by name. When you do, they’ll get a notification letting them know that you mentioned them. A great tool for drawing others’ attention to specific areas of a note.
Tags will make it much easier to organize your iPad notes
I’ll be honest, I didn’t even realize that the Notes app didn’t have tags until Apple mentioned it. But in iPadOS 15, it will have this feature!
Tags will allow you to more easily organize and find your notes. Just create and add relevant tags to your iPad notes to start the process.
When you add a tag to a note in iPadOS 15, that note will then be searchable by that tag. If you have a lot of iPad notes, this will be indispensable.
Another benefit of adding a tag to a note is that you can use smart organization. This feature will automatically group and organize your notes depending on how you tag them. If you like folders but hate putting things in them, this is for you!
Quick Note is the latest addition to the Apple Pencil goodness
A Notes-adjacent feature that’s being added in iPadOS 15 is Quick Note. This update is more Apple Pencil-focused. Like Notes, new features are usually added to the iPad every year that extend the usability of the Apple Pencil. This is yet another one of those updates.
What are Quick Notes in iPadOS 15?
Quick Notes is a new feature in iPadOS 15 that allows you to quickly take notes from anywhere on your iPad. Just swipe from the corner of your iPad screen (or choose Quick Notes from the Control Center) and a square of writing space will appear.
You can write in these notes with the Apple Pencil, or drag and drop items into them. For instance, if you’re in Safari, you can drop links into a Quick Note.
You can swipe Quick Notes away to hide them, or swipe to bring them back whenever you want. And just like marking up a PDF or photo on an iPad, you have a bunch of drawing tools and colors to choose from.
It should be noted that this feature is coming to the new macOS Monterey as well.
Another component of Quick Notes is called “links”. Links allow you to connect your place in a particular app with the note you’re currently taking.
For instance, if I’m writing a Quick Note while on the front of AppleToolBox, I can link that Quick Note to that page. So whenever I visit the front page of AppleToolBox, on iPad or Mac, I’ll see the Quick Note I wrote there before.
In theory, this allows you to leave virtual sticky notes all across the apps and websites you use. I think this makes this feature particularly useful for remembering things, though I do have a hard time seeing it used for much else.
Universal Control will help your iPad and Mac work together like never before
One of the most exciting features announced at WWDC21 was Universal Control. Although this feature was announced with macOS Monterey, it significantly improves the usability of the iPad.
In essence, this feature allows you to use your iPad and a Mac at the same time. You just set your iPad next to a Mac or MacBook, and instantly, the two will start to communicate.
You’ll be able to drag your mouse between the two devices, use one keyboard with both devices, and drag and drop files between them.
The closest feature we’ve had to this in the past is Sidecar. Sidecar lets you use your iPad as a secondary display for your Mac. However, it just mirrors or extends your Mac’s display.
Universal Control will let your devices interact with each other while retaining full functionality. Your iPad will still be touchable, Apple Pencil enabled, and in all other ways exactly as it was before. It’s an innovative and impressive example of what the Apple ecosystem is capable of.
Safari will be updated to be more like its macOS version
Last year, iPadOS brought default desktop versions of websites to Safari. And this year, Safari on iPad is getting even more like its macOS counterpart.
First, Safari in iPadOS 15 is getting the same makeover as the macOS version. The tab bar is going to look a lot sleeker, blending into your web pages.
Second, there’s going to be a new “more” menu. This should be replacing the awkward “Aa” menu that’s currently being used in iPadOS and iOS Safari. You’ll be able to access the same options here as in the “Aa” menu, plus some new ones.
One of those new options is the third new feature, tab groups. Tab groups allow you to create groups of tabs that you frequently use together.
For example, I tend to use a handful of sites for finding and compressing images for my articles. Instead of keeping these tabs open all the time in a separate Safari window, I can just place them in a group and access them whenever I need them.
The Start Page is also going to be more customizable on iPad. It’s been customizable on macOS for a year, and now, it will be on iPad, too. You’ll be able to add custom images, links, and analytics.
Lastly, we have what is probably the biggest change to the iPadOS 15 version of Safari: Extensions! You’ll now be able to use the same extensions you know and love on macOS with the iPad version of Safari. There will be a dedicated section of the App Store for extensions.
External keyboards are getting a bump in iPadOS 15
An odd update that I didn’t expect in iPadOS 15 has to do with external keyboards.
Apple is adding features that will make using a keyboard in iPadOS a bit more robust. For one, the on-screen shortcuts bar (where you see word suggestions and the copy/paste buttons) is going to be slimmer. All of the same controls should be there, though.
You’re also going to get more keyboard shortcuts in iPadOS. Apple aimed to allow users to completely navigate their iPad using just an attached keyboard. That’s a big deal, as without this, keyboards have felt like a typing tool rather than a true computing peripheral on iPad.
Swift Playgrounds is slightly more sophisticated
Over the years, the iPad Pro has tried to target a bigger and broader demographic of users. In the beginning, it was hard to imagine anyone other than digital artists using it as a laptop replacement. For the last year or two, though, the iPad Pro has been a solid MacBook alternative for many casual and pro users.
Developers, however, have never had the opportunity to make iPad Pro their primary work device. And that’s because iPad Pro still doesn’t support Xcode, the tools that allow developers to make apps for Apple devices. But with iPadOS 15, you won’t need Xcode anymore.
Swift Playgrounds, which allows iPad users to learn how to code in Apple’s Swift language, can now be used to create real apps. You can write an app in Swift Playgrounds and test it on your iPad, outside of the Swift Playgrounds app, and you can even publish it to the App Store.
That’s a pretty big deal. It means that someone with a budget of just $300 could buy an iPad and, knowing nothing about coding, could launch their career as a developer.
I even checked on Swift Playgrounds’s App Store page to make sure no functionality like this has previously existed on iPad. And in the description for Playgrounds, Apple states that learning and using code in Playgrounds isn’t the same as building a “real app”:
iPadOS15 is going to look a lot like iOS 15, too
As I close out this post, I wanted to cover some of the features coming to iPadOS 15 that are being copied from iOS 15. Many of these features are also going to be on macOS Monterey. So if you’ve already read posts on those OS updates, you can probably skip to the end of this post!
iPadOS 15 is getting all of the same FaceTime updates as iOS 15
iOS 15 represents a massive update to FaceTime. This app had already gotten some extra love from Apple in iOS 14, and in iOS 15 it’s going to be completely refreshed and modernized.
This includes the following features and more:
- SharePlay will let FaceTime callers share their screens, movies, and music with one another in a synced and collaborative way
- Grid view will be an optional replacement for the current floating tile view when you are FaceTiming multiple people
- You’ll have greater control over your audio when FaceTiming people
- Spatial audio will give more depth and dimension to your callers
- FaceTime is finally getting links, which means you’ll be able to share links for FaceTime to anyone (not just Apple users) for FaceTime meetings
Notification summary will be available on iPad
Another iOS 15 feature coming to iPadOS 15 is notification summary. This is a new feature that will summarize less important notifications for you at specified times of the day. For instance, if you want all of your social media and news notifications to come at lunch, iPadOS will keep them from you until those times.
Notification summary is coming with updates to Do Not Disturb as well. This includes the new Focus feature. Focus will allow iPad users to create Do Not Disturb profiles. For instance, a Work mode will only allow notifications from Work apps, while a Personal mode will hide all work-based notifications.
Maps is going to see a massive visual update
Maps gets some pretty big improvements each year in an effort to catch up to Google Maps. This year, I would say it’s finally going to be on par.
For certain cities, Maps will have dramatically improved 3D renderings of buildings and landmarks.
You’ll also be able to view overlapping roads for the first time. Overpasses and bridges will now appear to be over the roads that they are above in the real world.
Siri is improving in key ways
Siri is also going to be improving on iPadOS 15 in key ways. There will be more inclusive voice options, as well as on-device processing – finally!
On-device processing means that Siri will be able to work without an internet connection. This will make Siri faster as well as more private.
Siri is also being updated to understand context better. That means you should be able to carry a thread of conversation more easily (e.g., “Hey Siri, is Pizza Palace open?”, “Yes, they close at 8.”, “Great, give me directions.”, “Getting directions to Pizza Palace.”).
Early tests with the new and improved Siri show that it’s a lot closer to Google Assistant but still lags behind. Google Assistant is better at following a thread of conversation and is still faster than Siri.
iPadOS 15 is a step forward for iPad, albeit a small one
iPadOS 15 isn’t one of those keystone updates that everyone looks back on with fond memories and fuzzy feelings. However, it is bringing some great and welcome changes to the platform. And it’s free, so who can complain?
And that’s it! Let me know what you think about iPadOS 15 in the comments below. For more coverage and breakdowns of Apple’s WWDC21 announcements, be sure to check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.