Most of the big news from Apple’s WWDC 2020, online edition, involved iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur, but iPadOS 14 will get some worthy improvements of its own.
Much of what’s new is shared with iOS 14, though the changes in the smaller-screened OS are more drastic. For example, while iPadOS has had widgets from the start, they’ve been redesigned for the tablet and are completely new for the iPhone.
The Apple Pencil figures prominently in the updates, particularly in how it works more fluently with text. But some features have been rethought it a way that make a lot more sense for the larger screen size than that offered by an iPhone running iOS. Not to be left out are improvements to stock apps like Photos, Notes, and Music
The update doesn’t address one of the operating system’s shortcomings—windowing—presumably leaving the somewhat kludgy Slide Over and Split View options intact. But iPadOS 14 introduces some welcome updates that make it far more suited to a tablet and removing it further from its iOS roots.
A compelling example of the new sidebar is how it works in the Photos app. Similar to a web interface, and something that wouldn’t be possible on a small iPhone screen, the sidebar shows all the app’s sections and capabilities. You can even use a finger to drag images onto different albums. The Notes app, too, now has a sidebar to show you folders, individual notes, and the note contents in three panels. Arguably, the most important sidebar is the one in the Files app, where it provides a truly desktop-like view.
Yes, the Music app also gets a sidebar that lets you navigate your collection without losing a view of the main player screen, but it also sports a new player interface showing album art, play controls, and even lyrics, where available. Again, it’s more reminiscent of a desktop music player app than a mobile one.
Widgets now come in more sizes, and you can group them into a Smart Stack that automatically surfaces the most relevant info, even varying them by the time of day. Widgets now live in harmony with icons, letting you place either screen element wherever you like.
A Smaller Siri
As in iOS 14, iPadOS 14 updates Siri so that the voice assistant doesn’t take up the whole screen when you invoke it. Siri now appears as a circle at the bottom of the screen, and shows options in a small panel.
Discreet Call Notifications
In iPadOS 13, the incoming call interface takes up the whole screen. With version 14, it’s a discreet dialog box that appears at top-center while the app you have open remains almost fully visible on the screen. The same interface shows up whether the call is coming in through FaceTime or a third-party service such as Skype.
With iPadOS 14, Search becomes more like macOS’ Spotlight and less like search on an iPhone. As with Calls and Siri, Search no longer greedily takes up the entire screen. Its internals have been rebuilt as well, in what Apple’s Federighi calls Universal Search. It works as an app launcher as well as being able to find contacts, local documents, and web search results. Another new trick is that you can type a URL in the search box to launch a site, just as though it were a browser’s search box.
Apple Pencil Support
Using a stylus on Microsoft’s Surface devices has long provided an advantage over Apple Pencil use with iPads: Windows 10 lets you write in any text box anywhere, whereas only specific iPad apps allowed this. With iPadOS 14, Apple’s tablet equals that capability, with Scribble (a feature that previously appeared in watchOS). It also adds some significant input smarts, including the ability to convert drawings into exact shapes and select text in a desktop-like fashion.