At WWDC 2019, Apple confirmed that iPads won't be getting the iOS 13 update it announced during the show – instead, the company's tablet line is getting its own distinct operating system, called iPadOS.
Apple wants to distinguish the tablet experience from the iPhone, which should be exciting for both developers and iPad owners. It "builds on the same foundation as iOS," per Apple's announcement post, 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, perhaps, mouse support) for a better tablet experience. In short, iPad users won't just run an upsized iOS any longer.
iPad OS release date and minimum versions
Apple has set the iPadOS (called iPadOS 13, to keep it in line with the latest iOS version) release date for "fall 2019", which means we'll likely see the update hit iPads in September.
In previous years September has been the month in which Apple rolls out its new software to the public to coincide with the launch of its new iPhones, and we expect the same activity around the iPhone 11 this year.
The developer beta is out now, and you can download it on Apple's developer page here so long as you're, well, a registered developer. If you're not, don't worry, the public beta is coming in July.
The new iPadOS home screen
The first big change over iOS that you'll notice in iPadOS is on the 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.
iPadOS has a new way to multitask
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.
USB drive and SD card support comes to iPadOS
External storage fans rejoice! iPadOS will allow 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
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.
Gestures galore on iPadOS
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
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.
While Apple didn't officially confirm this would be coming in iPadOS, it apparently supports connecting a mouse to your iPad. At long last!
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. Hurrah! 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.
Will your iPad get the iPadOS update?
Apple has confirmed that the "iPad Air 2 and later, all iPad Pro models, iPad 5th generation and later, and iPad mini 4 and later" will all get the iPadOS update when it releases later this year.
So which iPads are missing out this year, after getting iOS 12 in 2018? Well it's the end of the update road for the original iPad Air, iPad Mini 2 and iPad Mini 3. It's unclear if older iPads will be getting iOS 13 or if they've been completely left behind.
The following iPads will get an update to iPadOS later this year.