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iPadOS release date, features and compatibility details

iPadOS
Dark mode on iPadOS. Image Credit: Apple
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple didn't launch its new tablet-friendly software as soon as we expected, but the iPadOS release date has passed and you can download iPadOS to your Apple tablet right now. In fact, we're already up to iPadOS 13.2.

It's the first time Apple has made a piece of software that's specifically designed for iPads.

The update means iPad owners are finally able to play Apple Arcade, the new gaming subscription service - and enjoy all the new tricks and tweaks coming to Apple tablets. You'll also be able to enjoy some features also coming to iPhones - that's why iPadOS has been numbered identically to iOS versions to indicate parallel releases.

The new operating system is a big change for Apple, which finally committed to splitting the iPad's software from the iPhone's iOS it had run on since the tablet first came out.

Below, we have a list of the best iPadOS features you're now able to experience when the new software hits your slate. It "builds on the same foundation as iOS," according to Apple, but expect iPadOS to grow more into its own operating system over time.

iPadOS brings a variety of critical improvements to the tablet UI. Some of these make better use of screen real estate while others introduce new gesture controls (and even mouse support) for a better tablet experience. In short, iPad users won't just run an up-sized iOS any longer.

iPadOS release date

September 24 was the download date for iPadOS and that was revealed alongside the new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, as well as the Apple Watch 5 and a new entry-level iPad.

Apple followed up with iPadOS 13.1 swiftly thereafter, released a few other interim versions and, in late October, pushed iPadOS 13.2. Most of these updates were bug fixes and optimizations, as Apple's changelog revealed - not just residual issues from the new forked build, but similar problems to those haunting iOS 13. 

iPadOS 13.2 also introduced support for the just-announced AirPods Pro, as well as support for HomeKit video and routers. 

Which iPads work with iPadOS?

There's a long list of iPads that are able to download the update, but you'll be missing out if you have the original iPad Air, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3 or something older.

The following iPads can get an update to iPadOS now:

It's likely the new iPad Pro, which we're expecting to see unveiled in mid-October 2019, will come with the operating system pre-installed.

New iPadOS home screen

iPadOS

Today View alongside a tighter grid of apps on the new iPadOS home screen. Image credit: Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

The first big change over you'll notice in iPadOS is on the new home screen. The grid of app icons is tighter, allowing you to fit more on the screen and reducing the amount of dead space on the display.

With a tighter grid of apps, there's now an option to show Today View alongside them, for a more useful overview screen.

It can be added to the Home screen for quick access to widgets with a simple swipe from the left side of the screen, and you can switch out the widgets pinned here to display the ones most relevant to you.

Sidecar is a big new change

If you're wondering what the biggest feature of iPadOS might be, Sidecar is a real contender. It natively bakes in wired (or wireless) support for using your iPad as a Mac second screen, bringing with it a whole host of functionality.

This mode effectively turns any iPad into a portable monitor, one with a powerful internal battery, allowing apps and multiple windows to be dragged onto its screen and interacted with using a mouse, keyboard or Apple Pencil.

In the beta, you couldn't mess around with the resolution but that may have changed now the final software is here. We'll be sure to check that when we have it running on our tablet.

iPadOS has a new way to multitask

iPadOS

Slide Over in iPadOS in action, with a side view of Messages over Safari. Image credit: Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

Multitasking also gets an upgrade on iPadOS is a few ways.  First up, you'll be able to use Split View to see two app windows at a time for the same app, or two different apps. iPadOS uses a drag-and-drop interface here, making switching between apps and windows easy.

Slide Over lets you quickly pull up an app in a side window, over the top of another app – allowing you to quickly check things such as emails, messages or reminders without having to exit the current app you're using.

Dragging up from the bottom of the screen will allow you to move between apps in the Slide Over panel.

Apple has also brought the Mac's Exposé feature to iPadOS, allowing you to get an overview of all your open apps – making it easy to jump between them, and close down any you no longer need running in the background.

iPadOS gets USB drive and SD card support

iPadOS features

USB drive and SD card support arrives in iPadOS. Image credit: Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

External storage fans rejoice! iPadOS allows you to plug a USB drive or SD card reader into your iPad, and the Files app will be able to read the plugin and allow you to easily manage data between the iPad's internal storage and the external drive.

Files gets a Column View to better take advantage of the iPad's wide screen, and the iCloud Drive allows folder sharing, and will show content from a USB drive or SD card if they're plugged in.

There's good news for photographers too, as support is being built into iPadOS to allow you to plug your camera into your iPad and import images directly into editing apps such as Lightroom.

iPadOS performance boost

Your current iPad could get a performance boost when iPadOS arrives, with Apple claiming that its tablet-specific operating system is quicker than iOS 12.

It says Face ID unlocks are up to 30% faster, while apps launch up to twice as fast as on iOS 12 – and apps themselves should be smaller in download size (by up to 50%), taking up less of that precious storage space. 

Desktop-quality websites and browsing on iPadOS

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A desktop-class Google Docs website with touch optimization on iPadOS. Image Credit: Apple

A desktop-class Google Docs website with touch optimization on iPadOS. Image Credit: Apple
(Image credit: Apple)
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Desktop-class websites and 30 new keyboard shortcuts. Image Credit: Apple

Desktop-class websites and 30 new keyboard shortcuts. Image Credit: Apple
(Image credit: Apple)

The Safari web browser is also improved with iPadOS, because it's no longer purely tied to iOS and a mobile ecosystem. 

That's right: you're no longer just viewing mobile sites, as iPadOS views websites in a modified desktop view that's a bit cleaner and optimized for touch.

It doesn't just work with Apple's websites either – the likes of Google Docs and Wordpress web apps will also work better with Safari on iPadOS.

Apple's browser will also get a download manager, 30 new keyboard shortcuts, and improved tab management when iPadOS lands later this year.

New iPadOS gestures

One of the bigger features across the whole of iPadOS are the new gestures. The ones we've seen are pretty simple: three-finger pinch to cut, three-finger splay to paste, three-finger swipe to undo. Easy.

In some apps, you'll also be able to two-finger-pinch the keyboard to shrink it to iOS mobile size and move it around. Plunk it next to the side of the screen and boom: you can type on it with one thumb. 

Add to that the new gestures for the home screen and multi-tasking, and there may be a learning curve required to get used to all the new interactions which come with iPadOS. 

Markup and much more on iPadOS

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The new tool palette for the Apple Pencil, which can be dragged anywhere on the screen. Image credit: Apple

The new tool palette for the Apple Pencil, which can be dragged anywhere on the screen. Image credit: Apple
(Image credit: Apple)
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There's a bunch of new custom fonts on iPadOS. Image Credit: Apple

There's a bunch of new custom fonts on iPadOS. Image Credit: Apple
(Image credit: Apple)

Markup also gets an update, and you'll be able to mark up entire web pages, documents and emails. 

A simple swipe up from the corner with your Apple Pencil launches markup and brings up the newly-redesigned tool palette, which can be dragged around and repositioned anywhere on the screen.

And speaking of the Pencil, Apple has reduced the latency of its input from 20ms to 9ms, which means you'll get a more natural, pen-like experience when using it.

Plenty of new features that are coming to iOS 13 are also headed to iPadOS, like Dark Mode, custom fonts, the new Photos organized by machine learning, and the SwiftKey-like slide-and-type QuickPath keyboard feature.

Mouse support for iPadOS

iPadOS does support connecting a mouse to your iPad, though it's not something you'll find front-and-center on the official iPadOS features list.

Developer Steve Troughton-Smith initially tweeted out instructions he'd discovered to connect a mouse through new Accessibility settings, and Tom's Guide successfully activated a mouse on an iPad. 

While it doesn't seem to be the smoothest thing, we're excited for a serious leap in the iPad family's productivity potential and accessibility.