iPadOS 14 is iOS 14… on an iPad

Last year, Apple shook up how it handles the iPad’s operating system by giving it its own name: iPadOS. This resulted in a fundamental shift in how people perceived an iPad. It can be a tablet when you want to do tablet things, it has the capabilities of replacing some core functions of your laptop, and somewhere in between it tries to be your main computing device.

iPadOS 13 introduced a gigantic suite of changes like widgets on your home screen (kinda), a bigger grid of apps, new gestures, mouse and trackpad support, an actual file system, desktop-class web browsing, and much more. It was a huge overhaul for every iPad user, especially for those who purchased an iPad Pro and wanted to get the most out of the hardware under the hood.

Fast forward to this year, and Apple has unveiled iPadOS 14. It carries with it all of the major new features in iOS 14and presents them in iPad format. This upgrade, in other words, is by no means as ground-breaking as iPadOS 13. It’s an S year for the iPad’s software, one that brings new features that build upon the foundation of the system rather than uprooting its principal philosophies.

Which is totally fine.

Whereas iPadOS 13 introduced more icons and pinned widgets to the left-hand side on your home screen, iPadOS 14 goes a step further and upgrades those widgets with much more detailed graphics and multiple sizes. Unlike iOS 14, you can’t take these widgets and put them on your home screen. But hey, at least they look pretty.

That’s not all, of course. Apple has taken the search function usually only found on your home screen and turned it into a completely separate entity. Now, you can invoke a search of just about anything on your iPad regardless of what app you’re in. I’m not sure how to invoke said search, but I assume a keyboard shortcut would work.

As I did my research for this article, I stumbled across a rather peculiar exclusion from the list of iPadOS 14 features: App Library. In iOS 14, Apple lets you view a complete list of your apps via an Android-esque app page that lives all the way to the right of your home screen panels. For whatever reason, Apple left it out on the iPad. I don’t exactly know why, but at least you have the search feature to fall back on whenever you’re looking for something.

Regardless, the upgrades Apple made to the main interface of the iPad are welcome, but they’re nothing earth-shattering.

Around the rest of iPadOS 14, you’re going to notice tweaks to how apps are laid out. Apple is giving lots of them new drop-down menus and sidebars with quick access to features within the applications. It’s clearly an optimization focused heavily on using your iPad with a trackpad or mouse. I’m sure it will translate well with touch, though. Apple’s pretty good at balancing the two.

One last design element: compact UI. Apple is giving incoming phone calls, Siri, and search (as mentioned) a much smaller presence on your iPad by not taking up your entire screen. This is really nice. Not only do these aspects of the system look silly on iPhones, but they look especially obnoxious on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I’m glad that these changes are here.

You know what else I’m glad is here? Support for setting third-party email and browser apps as the default. Especially on an iPad, it’s going to be nice to not have to use Apple’s Mail app to send all of my emails. I personally use Safari, but your usage may vary and you could prefer Chrome. If you do, iPadOS 14 will let you completely ignore Safari and focus on Google’s web interface.

A lot of these features, like I said, are from iOS 14 and there are still a good number of additions that you can also find on the iPhone. Things like App Clips, the Messages upgrades with pinned conversations and new Memojis, a redesign of Maps with Guides and cycling routes, upgrades to the Home app, and new AirPods features are completely consistent across your iPhone and iPad. Obviously, they have their fair share of layout tweaks to benefit the hardware they run on, but a lot that makes iPadOS 14 different from 13 is simply keeping things consistent with your iPhone.

That’s not to say everything is the same. This is the iPad we’re talking about, and Apple certainly can’t resist leaving the Apple Pencil out of the way of a few upgrades.

With iPadOS 14, Apple introduces Scribble which lets you write in any text box and have your handwriting get translated into text. In Notes, when you write words with the Pencil, Apple’s software magic will let you copy and paste them as text. You also get shape recognition, perfecting those painful-to-look-at circles and complex-ogons we all suck at drawing. There’s also data detectors which can automatically tell when you write a phone number, address, or email. You can then create things like an event using that data.

Rounding things off are the privacy protections Apple has implemented. The App Store now gives you information on every app’s privacy policies and what data it collects before you download it. Sign in with Apple now lets you merge your Apple ID details with supported app’s log-ins to minimize the amount of passwords you have to keep track of. Location sharing is now much more vague as you can share only an approximate location with apps like local news or weather. Finally, Safari can now present you with privacy reports each week and tell you when it thinks your passwords aren’t strong enough.

Overall, iPadOS 14 looks like a solid upgrade, and I’m sure it will be. But unlike last year’s iPadOS release, this year’s big update doesn’t try to define what an iPad is. It adds a handful of nice new features and safety protocols and refines some of the rough edges of the system itself. Will it be worth installing come its release date this fall? Sure. Just don’t expect much more than an iOS 14-infused version of the iPad’s operating system. That’s really all that’s here.