Will iPadOS transform the iPad into a MacBook replacement?

iPadOS adds a great deal more versatility to the iPad's already extensive feature set, but will it make a compelling laptop replacement for professionals?

Apple iPadOS: What's new, and why change the name? Apple's new OS for iPad includes several features that make it easier to use the iPad as a laptop replacement. Here's what you need to know.

Apple unveiled iPadOS—the new name of the iOS variant for iPad— at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose on Monday. More than just a renaming, the preview of iPadOS includes a variety of new features that make the iPad more adaptable for multitasking and productivity.

The additions—combined with the ever-increasing size of the iPad Pro—are bringing the iPad closer to parity with the MacBook, making the iPad potentially an appealing alternative to the MacBook, depending on use case.

Multitasking improvements

iPadOS is changing the way multitasking works, allowing for faster app and context changes, as well as transferring data between multiple apps.

Slide Over is getting the most changes, with added support for multiple apps Users can move between Slide Over apps by swiping along the bottom, or swiping up to see all the apps in the Slide Over view. Apps in Slide Over can be moved to full screen by dragging them to the top, or closed by opening to the app switcher and flicking the app upward.

Apps are also now allowed to open in multiple windows, and users can open the same app in multiple spaces. The App Switcher now shows all spaces and windows for all apps, along with title windows, and you can see all open windows for a given app by tapping the icon in the Dock.

SEE: The Apple Developer Program: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The Home Screen now uses a tighter app grid, and adds the ability to pin widgets.

Keyboard and mouse usage

Apple added 30 new keyboard shortcuts to Safari, alongside more features from the desktop version of Safari, including a download manager.

Mouse and trackpad support is coming to iPadOS as an accessibility feature, according to ZDNet's Jason Cipriani, noting that "mouse support is an AssistiveTouch feature and also works when a Magic Trackpad is connected to the iPad," and that it provides "a circular cursor that moves across the screen, acting as a finger would when touching the screen. It's unclear how multi-touch gestures would work with a mouse pointer."

File management and USB memory

Files on iPadOS is gaining a variety of features available in Finder on Mac OS, particularly the addition of column view, and metadata display in that view.

Support for external drives on iPad is a significant advantage in terms of usability. While storage vendors such as SanDisk have for years offered USB flash drives with additional lightning connectors for use with their own storage apps, adding support to Files—and at the OS level—will greatly ease the pain points of using external storage.

The verdict

While some of the features are not particularly novel—the ability to pin widgets to the homescreen was part of Android Honeycomb (3.0) in 2011, and opening multiple instances of apps has been a mainstay of Android for the past several years—Apple's implementation of these features will inevitably be more polished by the time iPadOS reaches general availability in fall 2019.

Apple has been positioning the iPad as a computer for years, most famously with the "What's a computer?" ad from 2017 that prompted some backlash. Apple repeated that claim in 2018 with the introduction of USB-C on the iPad Pro. Perhaps with the introduction of iPadOS and the productivity features it introduces, the iPad can realize its potential as a computer replacement.

But, you can't run Xcode on iPad, making it an unlikely computer replacement for developers.

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Image: Apple

By James Sanders

James Sanders is a staff writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.