What is iPadOS? Everything you need to know

iPad Mini iPadOS 15 home screen

Nick Fernandez / Android Authority

The Apple iPad has come a long way since its humble beginnings. It stands today as the crowned king of tablets and has undergone many changes over the years. For a long time, though, it was limited by iOS — a mobile operating system that struggled to keep up with the iPad’s computing power over the years. Enter its replacement, iPadOS.

Apple introduced iPadOS as a fork of iOS for iPads, in 2019. All iPads have since run on iPadOS, rather than iOS. But what exactly is iPadOS and how is it different from iOS?

Read also: Your guide to the best tablets

What is iPadOS?

Apple iPad Air 2020 review vs iPad Pro 2021

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

iPadOS is the operating system Apple created for modern iPads, with a focus on multitasking. Apple introduced the first version of this operating system, iPadOS 13, alongside iOS 13 in 2019. Before that, iPads ran on iOS, except that every year iPads got features that differed from what was available on iOS on the iPhone.

These iPad-specific features in iOS include picture-in-picture, multitasking, drag-and-drop, and a more compliant dock. These differences have led the operating system to become a different branch, which is iPadOS. iPadOS is based on iOS, but has a few design and functionality features of macOS.

Relevant: Apple’s iPadOS 15 is a wake-up call for Android tablet makers

iPadOS Features — iPadOS vs iOS

Apple iPad Pro 2020 portrait with iPhone

iPadOS gets all the major iOS features, but a few features set it apart from the mobile OS. Here are some of the important iPadOS features.

Multitasking

Apple iPad 2021 display landscape

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Multitasking is the most significant change in iPadOS over iOS. There is the standard Split View to open two apps side by side. Plus, you get a Slide Over feature that lets you keep a third app on the screen in a floating window and stack other apps to switch between the apps. You can also open multiple instances of an app and use the App Exposé feature to view all instances.

This isn’t the same level of multitasking you get with a desktop operating system. However, it’s a definite improvement over iOS’s basic multitasking features.

File manager

Apple iPad Air 2020 review files

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

iOS has had almost no to no file manager in the past, but the Files app has steadily changed that. The iPadOS Files app gets a few improvements over the iOS app. The latest iPadOS 15 update brought some features from the macOS Finder app to the Files app. This includes the ability to group files and folders, drag and drop support, and a marque file selection tool with trackpad/mouse, just to name a few.

Multiple iPad models now also have USB-C support, and the Files app has a file transfer progress indicator and read-only support for NTFS.

Home screen and widgets

Apple iPad Pro 2020 home screen

On the iPadOS home screen, you can choose whether you want a spacious app layout or a more compact one. You can add up to five rows and six columns of apps. Widgets have been part of iPadOS since the first version, but with version 15, Apple brought them to iOS as well.

Apple iPad 2020 with Apple Pencil

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Mouse, keyboard, and pencil support also differentiates iPadOS from iOS. Apple Pencil support is exclusive to iPadOS and you now get Scribble – a handwriting-to-text feature. Mouse and keyboard support is available on iOS, but iPadOS gets vastly superior support because first-party accessories are available.

With mouse support on iPadOS, you don’t get a regular pointer, but a circular helper cursor that clicks on screen elements to make navigation easier. Hotkeys are activated when you plug in a keyboard for a better user experience.

sidecar

Apple iPad Pro 2020 Port and Smart Connector

Sidecar is a way to use a supported iPad as a second monitor for a macOS device. The main feature here is that Sidecar lets you use an Apple Pencil to interact with macOS. This is especially helpful if you’ve joined the Apple ecosystem and are using your setup for creative work.

Apps and app features

Apple iPad Pro 2020 Android Authority home screen

There are some app-specific features that are limited to iPadOS. For example, Safari on iPadOS behaves like a desktop browser in some ways, loads desktop versions of websites by default, and has a good download manager. In addition, some third-party apps, such as Photoshop, have separate versions for iPadOS.

iPadOS vs Chrome OS

Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook Tent Mode

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The iPad is a very popular portable computer. It has become an excellent alternative for those looking for non-laptop computing equipment. Chromebooks also fall into the same category, with both devices gaining popularity for education and home use. As such, iPadOS competes directly with Chrome OS.

iPadOS and Chrome OS differ in one important aspect: iPadOS is a touch-centric operating system, while Chrome OS focuses on a more desktop-like environment. Of course, that’s not to say it isn’t good on touch devices. Chromebook tablets/detachables and two-in-ones are quite common and work quite well. However, iPadOS has the advantage with Apple Pencil support. Chrome OS stylus implementations haven’t had nearly as much success.

App libraries for both platforms are impressive, but Chrome OS gives you more options. With iPadOS, you have the App Store catalog. Chrome OS gives you its own set of apps, Android apps through the Google Play Store, and the ability to install full Linux apps. iPadOS takes a conservative approach to the number of desktop-like features it brings. Chrome OS goes all-in, though.

iPads that support iPadOS

All iPads released after the September 2019 release of iPadOS will run on iPadOS. These are the iPads you can currently buy that support iPadOS.

iPad (9th generation, 2021 model)

Apple iPad 2021 home screen portrait

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Baseline iPad was updated in 2021 and still offers great value for money. It’s the most affordable iPad and costs $329. It doesn’t get the fancy features, but it still supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and comes with the latest iPadOS 15 right out of the box. As we see in our Apple iPad (2021) review said, this one has no real competition.

iPad Air (4th generation, 2020 model)

Apple iPad Air 2020 review app store

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

iPad Air got a massive makeover in 2020 after many years and is a hit. The updated iPad Air is now the most balanced iPad money can buy. It brings with it the new design and great specs, while the starting price remains a modest $599. It shipped with iPadOS 14 and has since been updated to iPadOS 15.

It gets the full spectrum of the file management features in iPadOS, thanks to the USB-C port. As our Apple iPad Air (2020) review says, this is the tablet for everyone.

iPad Mini (6th generation, 2021 model)

iPad Mini 2021 Apple TV

Nick Fernandez / Android Authority

iPad Mini is the latest iPad to get the updated design treatment. It’s the smallest iPad you can buy, and it gets all the iPadOS goodness, despite its small form factor. It also comes with a USB-C port, meaning iPadOS gives you all the file management features too.

The new iPad Mini also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil and ships right out of the box with iPadOS 15. In our Apple iPad Mini (2021) review, we called it the best small tablet on the market.

iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation, 2021 model)

iPad Pro 11 inch 2021

iPad Pro has been a great tablet from its first iteration itself, and the 2021 refresh has been no different. The new 11-inch iPad comes with iPadOS 15 and a Liquid Retina display with adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, also known as ProMotion. It also gets USB-C with Thunderbolt, and most importantly Apple’s M1 chip for better performance than ever.

iPad Pro 12.9 inches (5th generation, 2021 model)

Apple iPad Pro 2020 money shot

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro also got a facelift in 2021 and has all the good stuff that the 11-inch model does. It will also get the Apple M1 chip and second-generation Apple Pencil support. The main difference is the display, which is not only bigger, but actually a Liquid Retina XRD display, which uses Mimi-LED technology. We the last iPad Pro 12.9-inch tested in 2020, and the 2021 model brings an even better offering, giving you the best of iPadOS.

Older iPad models that support iPadOS

  • iPad 9.7-inch 5th generation
  • iPad 9.7-inch 6th generation
  • iPad 10.2-inch 7th generation
  • iPad 10.2-inch 8th generation
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Air 3rd generation
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad mini 5th generation
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 11-inch
  • iPad Pro 11-inch 2nd generation
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch 2nd generation
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch 3rd generation
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch 4th generation

Read also: The best accessories you can get for the iPad

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Does iPadOS work on all iPads?
A: No, iPadOS doesn’t work on all iPads, but it does most iPads, except for some really old first-generation models. See the full list of supported iPads above.

Q: Does iPadOS work on an iPhone?
A: No, iPadOS is exclusive to iPads and will not work on an iPhone.

Q: Can an iPad run macOS?
A: No, an iPad cannot run macOS. Apple has even released an iPad Pro that runs on the same M1 processor as in some of its MacBooks, but it still runs on iPadOS, not macOS.

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