Back at WWDC 2019 Apple surprised onlookers with the news that the iPad was ditching iOS in favour of iPadOS. Currently in beta, the final version arrived on 24 September 2019.

While it may look similar to iOS 13 on the surface, iPadOS brings a range of new features to iPad users, some of which will make the experience a little more Mac-like. Here's everything you need to know, from release date and beta details to the headline features of Apple's tablet-focused OS.

In this article we'll run through the new features in iPadOS, which iPads will run it, and whether it gives us any clues about Apple's plans to bring iOS to the Mac.

Latest version of iPadOS

iPadOS was released on 24 September 2019, five days after iOS 13. It was originally slated for a 30 September launch but for undisclosed reasons it's been brought forward - which is great news for iPad gamers who can't wait to get started on Apple Arcade.

Apple's likely to issue updates to iPadOS over the coming months, these could introduce new features and bug fixes. As soon as we learn of any we will list them here.

If you haven't yet installed the iPad software update, here's how to install iPadOS.

Should I install iPadOS?

Good question. Apple released an update to iOS 13 shortly after iOS 13 was launched due to a few bugs and a security flaw. Those issues should have been addressed in iPadOS, so it should be safe to upgrade, but we always advise some caution.

Apple has highlighted a security issue with keyboard extensions, which is yet to be addressed. Also, a potential security issue with with location permissions has come to light.

Another factor determining whether you should install iPadOS is whether your iPad supports it...

Which iPads are compatible with iPadOS?

While many thought iPadOS would be limited to Apple's 'Pro' tablets, it's compatible with quite a few devices. If you have an older iPad it might be a good reason to upgrade. Read: Which iPad should I buy. Or you could check out the latest iPad deals - we've seen some great discounts on 2018's iPad, for example.

  • NEW: 10.2in iPad
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 11-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad (6th generation)
  • iPad (5th generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Air 2

iPadOS release date & new features

Find out which iPads will get iPadOS here.

New features in iPadOS

A lot of the features in iPadOS are the same as those in iOS 13 - but there are many more features that will enhance your existing iPad considerably - or give you a reason to upgrade. Here, we explain the key features of the new operating system.

iPadOS features at a glance:

  • The icons on the Home screen are smaller so you can fit more in, and widgets, such as a calendar or to do list, can be added here.
  • You can have multiple windows open in an app and view them side by side in split view, you can only two pages at a time but having multiple pages open is a real benefit.
  • A new Expose like feature (from MacOS) that shows an overview of all your open apps.
  • New Slide Over feature to make it easy to switch between apps.
  • Improved markup tools.
  • You can plug in external storage and access content on there.
  • There is an improved Files app for accessing all your saved data stored in iCloud. Including the ability to access file servers.
  • New keyboard shortcuts and gestures have arrived, including support for keyboard shortcuts when a keyboard is plugged in.
  • You can connect a mouse (via an accessibility feature).
  • The Apple Pencil will react faster thanks to improved latency.
  • There are also additional Pencil gestures.
  • You can capture a grab of an entire webpage, rather than only what can be seen on the screen.
  • There is a download manager, so you can download from the web in Safari.
  • QuickPath typing (like the Swipe keyboard) will make typing faster.

We'll go into a bit more detail about some of these features below:

Improved gesture support

The highlight of iPadOS for many is the introduction of new-and-improved gestures that help take advantage of the large display; swiping in from the left of the home screen will provide easy access to Widgets, a three-finger pinch will copy text, a three-finger spread will paste and a three-finger spread will undo recent changes. You get the idea, right?

The upgraded gesture support looks to vastly improve the iPad workflow, especially for those using the device for work and education purposes.

iPadOS release date & new features: Multitasking

Multi-window support

The gestures in iPadOS are further enhanced by changes to Slide-In and Split-Screen, with the latter now supporting multiple windows from the same app. This allows you to read one Note while editing another, or compose an email while reading an article on Safari.

All-new Safari browser

If anything has been turbocharged in iPadOS, it's Safari. The highlight is desktop website support, allowing you to access full websites (automatically optimised for touch input) when browsing on an iPad. This makes the iPad fully compatible with popular sites including WordPress and Google Docs.

You'll also be able to organise file downloads via Safari's built-in Download Manager, and the introduction of 30 new keyboard shortcuts should make using the browser much quicker too.

Files

Files has also had an upgrade in iPadOS. You've got access to an all-new column view, bringing a macOS-inspired File Preview with it. You'll be able to quickly view photos and videos, access Quick Actions to rotate images, convert documents to PDFs and view metadata with a tap.

You've also got the option to share folders in iCloud Drive and add files via SMB, USB sticks, SD cards and other USB-C/Lightning-enabled accessories, bringing the capabilities of the iPad closer to that of a traditional laptop.

iPadOS release date & new features: Swipe typing

Keyboard

The iPad's on-screen keyboard has sorely needed love for some time, and it finally got the TLC it needs with iPadOS.

As well as being able to type by swiping from one letter to another - just as you can on iOS 13 - you can also pinch the keyboard to shrink and move it wherever you want on-screen, making one-handed use a breeze while also providing more screen real-estate for your apps.

Apple Pencil improvements

Rather incredibly, Apple has managed to reduce the already-impressive 20ms latency of the Apple Pencil down to 9ms, providing a more natural drawing experience for creatives that use Apple's high-end stylus.

There's a host of other Apple Pencil-specific features on offer too, like quick access to mark-up, a redesigned Pencil toolkit and PencilKit, allowing developers to offer Apple's suite of Apple Pencil tools within third-party apps.

iPadOS release date & new features: Sidecar

Sidecar support with macOS Catalina

If you've got a Mac running macOS Catalina (due out in October) then you'll be able to take advantage of the new Sidecar functionality, allowing your iPad to double up as a second display without the need for wires.

It's a must-have for MacBook owners, as it can almost double the size of the display, but the benefits go beyond simply displaying information on a secondary screen. In fact, Sidecar offers Apple Pencil support, allowing you to ditch your dedicated stylus setup and use your tablet and Apple Pencil to draw naturally on your Mac.

Custom font support

While this isn't for everyone, designers and creatives in general will be happy to know that iPadOS supports custom fonts, allowing you to use a range of previously-unsupported fonts to create gorgeous graphics and documents. It'll be easy to install them too, with a dedicated section coming to the iPad's App Store.

And most features of iOS 13, too!

And of course, iPadOS comes with all the headline features of iOS 13 including Dark Mode, a redesigned Photos app, the Apple ID sign-in option for third-party apps, enhancements to AR, custom Memoji in the Message app and a whole bunch more.

Does this mean that the Mac and iPad are merging?

Apple has always said that it has no plans to merge iPad and Mac. Apple CEO Tim Cook once compared such devices as being like a Toaster-Refrigerator, suggesting that it's better to do one thing well, rather than try to merge two very different functions.

Despite this, Apple is bringing even more macOS-like features to the iPad with iPadOS. These improvements will make the iPad more suitable for work related tasks, for example, being about to have more than two documents open in Pages at once, and being able to download content from the web.

These are features that will improve the credentials of the iPad as a replacement for your Mac, maybe even making it feasible that you could replace your Mac with an iPad.

But other changes, such as Sidecar (described above and here: How to use Sidecar), and the tools that will make it easier for developers to port iPad apps to the Mac and vice versa, could mean that over time we see a merger of the two platforms.

Rather than MacOS on an iPad though, we might see iPadOS on a Mac. There are rumours that Apple is working on a new Mac, perhaps a replacement for the now discontinued MacBook, which will use an Apple-made ARM processor and could run this iPadOS. Read more about that here: Apple's plans for an ARM-powered MacBook.

Apple isn't exactly merging Mac and iPad but it certainly is paving the way for a new device that could take the best of both worlds.