By David Pierce July 7, 2019 9:00 am ET
A new version of iPad software, called iPadOS, gives the iPad new powers and makes it more useful for multitasking and all kinds of work. It might still not feel exactly like your laptop, but it can now do just about everything your PC can. And, great news: The iPad doesn’t have a butterfly keyboard.
Many of the best features of Apple’s upcoming iOS 13, including a system wide dark mode, are also coming to iPadOS. At the same time, the iPad is getting a few unique features, like the ability to put widgets on your home screen.
The new iPadOS launches officially this fall, but it is available now in a public beta. In my early tests, the software is a little buggy, and a lot of apps aren’t fully compatible, so please don’t install it on your primary device just yet. But iPadOS has already changed my opinion of iPads. Apple’s tablet still isn’t going to kill the Mac—but it might be all the computer you need. And did I mention you can now connect a mouse?
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As good as recent iPads have been, they couldn’t be your only computer. Getting things done involved too many apps, moving files around was too complicated, and there were some things, like reading a USB flash drive, that the iPad simply couldn’t do. You still needed a just-in-case laptop or desktop for when the iPad simply didn’t have an app for that.
Two new features of iPadOS help shrink the list of things you just can’t do on an iPad down to almost nothing.
Safari, the iPad’s default web browser, now acts like a full-featured Mac browser. In fact, it tells websites that it’s a Mac, so you always get the full web experience. No longer do you land on hamstrung mobile sites or, worse, get kicked to an app—thanks for nothing, Google Docs. Since so much of our computing life takes place on the web, this is the single most important new iPadOS feature.
In addition to having multiple apps open side-by-side on your iPad, you can also open an app in a slim window over the top of whatever else you’re doing. With iPadOS, you can store multiple apps in this space: It’s the fastest way to get to email, text messages and more.
Now you can plug just about any external drive into an iPad and use it like a normal drive in the iPad’s Files app. (You might need a Lightning or USB-C adapter, though, so keep reading.) That is crucial for dealing with photos, trading files around the office or simply backing up all your stuff. You can zip and unzip files—just long-press and tap Compress—and move them between drives, too. As long as there’s an app on your iPad to open a file, it will open from any drive you have.
A powerful web browser and file manager bring the iPad much closer to parity with the Mac. And, of course, the iPad already had a lot going for it, from its huge App Store to the Apple Pencil. The rest of iPadOS is about making all that stuff easier to use.
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