Apple’s iPadOS 16 finally takes advantage of the power of the iPad… to a degree

With a new suite of multitasking features, this version of iPadOS is the most Mac-like of them all, despite it remaining true to the iPad's origins.

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Apple has unveiled iPadOS 16, the company’s next big update for the iPad. The software was previously leaked through a few reports that indicated it would take further advantage of the power Apple’s been cramming into its iPads lately, and it looks like some of that will be happening. However, as you’d expect, Apple still wants the iPad to be an iPad, so the upgrades in question are more “welcome features” than “game-changers.”

All of the Mac similarities and comparisons can be found in the multitasking department, where in iPadOS 16, Apple brings Stage Manager and external display support. The former is lifted right from macOS Ventura, where the iPad can organize all of the apps you have open and present them as floating windows in order to declutter your work space. Meanwhile, the latter is a Mac-like improvement on how the feature existed previously on the iPad, with the ability to run apps separately on another display and not simply mirror your iPad’s screen. Apple says you can run up to four apps on each display at a time.

Apple is also introducing a new Display Zoom feature which lets you increase the pixel density of your display so you can view more content from the apps you have open. This will specifically be helpful for Split View where content is somewhat limited. In addition, Apple is adding Reference Mode to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for things like color grading and approving art, as well as Virtual Memory Swap which will automatically allocate more memory to apps that need it.

Unlike the rest of iPadOS 16, these features will remain exclusive to M1-based iPads, which means you’ll need to upgrade if you own anything earlier than a 2020 iPad Pro. While that’s a bit of a bummer, it’s clear where Apple sees these features being used the most: among those who actually need them/want them.

As far as the rest of iPadOS 16 goes, there’s a lot to talk about. Apple is adding a lot of the same features as iOS 16 to keep the two platforms in line, such as iCloud Shared Photo Library which lets you share a photo library with your family and automatically back up pictures and videos of different people and places so you can all relive the same memories.

The Mail app gets upgraded with the ability to cancel sent messages, schedule emails to go out, get reminded about an email at a later date, and enjoy a much more robust search experience. The Messages app gets updated with an edit button for messages, the ability to recover recently-deleted messages, and mark threads as unread. Live Text now works in videos, and Visual Look Up can lift subjects from their background so you can use them in other apps like Messages. You also get the ability to use Dictation and your keyboard at the same time to type, a redesigned Home app, improvements to Siri and shortcuts, Handoff for FaceTime calls, and updates to Apple News coverage of sports.

Of course, Apple does include some iPad-specific features that every user will get to take advantage of, regardless of processor. In Messages, you’ll have the ability to collaborate and manage content from across apps like Keynote, Numbers, Pages, Notes, and Reminders. You’ll even be able to do it through Safari thanks to its new Tab Groups feature, allowing you and others to collect web pages and do research together.

A new app coming in the future is Freeform, which will let you collaborate with others on a digital whiteboard in real-time. There’s also (finally!) a stock Weather app for the iPad, as well as deeper system functions like system-wide undo/redo and customizable toolbars to help make iPadOS feel more desktop-like.

My takeaway

It’s no secret that the iPad is capable of much more than iPadOS lets on. The latest iPad Pro and Air have M1 chips, the same chips as a handful of Macs have, yet they offer a completely different experience that’s much more limited in terms of functionality. No desktop apps, no robust file system, no floating windows – none of that has been brought to the iPad as a result of the addition of the M1.

Apple’s iPadOS 16 aims to fix some of that. It pulls in more features from the Mac to give more versatility to those who need it, all while still remaining unequivocally an iPad. It’s a bigger leap toward laptop replacement than iPadOS 15 was last year, yet it still doesn’t quite reach the level of, say, a MacBook.

Still, I’m looking forward to trying out all of the features on an iPad that’s compatible with them all. I plan on upgrading to whatever the new iPad Pro winds up becoming later this year, so I’m sure I’ll have more coverage by the end of 2022.

When does iPadOS 16 drop?

Apple says it will release iPadOS 16 to all supported iPads this fall. A developer beta is currently available for testing, while public beta testers will gain access in July.