If you’ve been itching to test all of the new iPad features Apple touted during its WWDC keynote last month, today’s your day: You can download and install the iPadOS 14 public beta right now. That’s probably all some of you needed to know, but if you’re still ready, be sure to take the usual precautions. That means backing up all your data before you take the plunge, and installing the beta build on a secondary device if at all possible.
As you might have already guessed from the name, iPadOS 14 is based on iOS 14, which we’ve already started testing recently. Most of the changes that Apple wove into iOS are present on its tablets too, including a smarter, less obtrusive Siri, plenty of tweaks to existing apps and a renewed focus on privacy, so I won’t be dwelling on those much. What’s more interesting -- to me, anyway -- is how the iPadOS’s identity is growing even more distinct, even with all the DNA it shares with iOS.
The best example I can think of is the way these devices approach their home screens. Like iOS 14, this new version of iPadOS includes all of Apple’s new widgets, which come in different sizes so you can control how much information gets crammed onto your home screen. Android fans have been crowing since the WWDC keynote that Apple is extremely late to the customizable widget party, and they’re absolutely right — Google had the right idea and executed it first and better. The upside is that, at long last, iOS is more informative at a glance.
Things are a little different on the iPad. Unlike iOS 14, you can’t just splash widgets all over your tablet's home screen; instead, they’re relegated to the same "Today" sidebar where they've lived since the first iPadOS release last year. And, unlike on iPhones, they’re still only visible when the iPad is propped up in landscape mode.
These won’t be a huge issue for many, since the way widgets are displayed hasn't gotten any worse -- it just hasn't changed. Still, it's bound to be a bummer for anyone who really wanted to trick out their iPads. (For what it’s worth, Apple says it focused more on tuning the widget experience for iPhones in this release) And in any case, another decision Apple made about iPadOS 14’s home screen is far more questionable.
Apple introduced the App Library in iOS 14, which serves as a single repository for all of your installed apps. The funny thing is, it's completely missing in iPadOS. Instead, you're meant to manage your folders and multiple home screens the same as always, which feels like a notable misstep here. Yes, iPads have bigger screens, so it's easy enough to pick out specific apps as you scroll through multiple pages. They also have a dedicated dock to store your favorite or most frequently used apps, so iPads are naturally a little more organized than iPhones. The thing is, iPads aren't immune to clutter, and I'm the kind of person who constantly grapples with my messy home screens. Adding the App Library, even as a totally optional feature, would've been helpful to anyone who wants more control over how they organize and access their apps.
Thankfully, other interface changes can feel more immediately satisfying. (Emphasis on “can.”) The search experience in iPadOS used to give you a little bit of everything, but now the search panel works a lot more like Spotlight does on a Mac, offering quick access to information on the web in addition to what’s on your device. Let’s say you punch in “Lightroom” as a search term. In iPadOS 13, you’d get search results that full up your entire screen, offering a shortcut to the app (if it’s installed), its settings, similar apps in the App Store, and some websites Siri suggests.
With iOS 14, though, those results appear in a smaller, self-contained panel that includes links to the installed app, a shortcut to a search for that exact term (plus related ones) in Safari, and the option to search for that term in other apps, like Notes.
I’ll tell you this right now: Not everyone will appreciate this change. While the old approach did take over the entire screen, it offered just about every result you could imagine. With iPadOS 14, Apple went with a more focused approach, with the option to dig in further when you need to. The same breadth of results is still there; Search just doesn’t display all of them by default anymore. This new universal search in many cases feels faster, and I personally prefer this new, cleaner take — most of the time, the very first search result is exactly what I was looking for anyway. Still, expect to grumble for a while if you enjoyed Apple’s old, “here’s a bit of everything” approach.
While we’re on the subject of redesigns, some of Apple’s first-party tablet apps have been tweaked to better match their desktop counterparts. Just look at the Calendar and Photo apps: Both now feature prominent sidebars when you swipe to the side, offering fast access to options and controls that normally would’ve been scattered about. They’re not alone, either: You’ll find similar sidebars in Apple’s Files, Notes and Music apps.