iPadOS Beta: not groundbreaking but very nicely done

iPadOS Beta: not groundbreaking but very nicely done

Dominik Bärlocher
Zurich, on 25.06.2019
Revision: Eva Francis
Last night Apple released the public beta version of the iPad operating system iPadOS. An initial look at the features reveals the software isn’t anything new but it finally respects the tablet form factor.

The iPad is the de facto standard when it comes to tablets. That’s partly because Apple devices are really good. But it’s also due to the fact Android tablets are often happy to make do with little. They save on systems-on-a-chip – where is my Kirin 980 tablet with AMOLED screen? – and the software is rarely well maintained.

In terms of software, Apple doesn’t exactly have much to write home about. You just have to look at the way the company that’s supposed to focus on functionality as well as aesthetics let the iPad take a bit of a backseat as far as design was concerned. Pop an operating system for phones on it (iOS) and Bob’s your uncle.

The public beta for the iPadOS has been built on iOS and so it doesn’t look a great deal different
The public beta for the iPadOS has been built on iOS and so it doesn’t look a great deal different

That was until today. Last night, Apple released the first public beta of its iPadOS. That means you can already start playing about with the new software.

How to get Apple’s iPadOS

Installing iPadOS is pretty straightforward but it does require a bit of patience. All in all, it takes a good half hour. Fortunately, you get to chill out for most of that time as the machine is doing all the heavy lifting for you.

iPad Pro (2018) (12.90", 1000GB, Space Gray, 4G)
Apple iPad Pro (2018) (12.90", 1000GB, Space Gray, 4G)

Important thing to remember: you’ll need to download the Safari app to your iPad in order to install iPadOS. It’s not as easy on Chrome or Snowhaze. Essentially, if you want it to be as stress-free as possible, just use Safari from the get-go.

Here’s how to download iPadOS:

  1. Open Safari on your iPad and go to https://beta.apple.com/sp/betaprogram/.
  2. Set up an account.
  3. In Safari, go to https://beta.apple.com/profile and download your profile.
  4. Go to Settings on your iPad.
  5. Directly below your user picture you’ll see the option to «Download profile». Click on that and install it.
  6. Go to Settings → General → Software update
  7. Install the update.

It might take a few minutes for the iPad to communicate with Apple’s server and realise you’re a beta tester. But once you’ve installed the profile, it’ll happen sooner or later.

Warning: it’s only in beta

The current version of iPadOS is a public beta. That means the software isn’t necessarily complete. There could be bugs, maybe even serious ones. It’s unlikely but it is possible. Given it’s an Apple release, I doubt any major bugs could get in and destroy your iPad. After all, the company rarely releases anything half-finished, even when it comes to beta versions.

Nevertheless, if you absolutely have to use your iPad for something, think twice before you download the update and maybe wait until the finalised version is released.

I guess I should add a legal caveat here along the lines of: neither I nor Digitec Galaxus AG accept liability for any damages or warranty if you have any problems resulting from the beta. Insert more legal stuff here. Just be careful and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

The first steps with iPadOS

Now that we’re done with legalese and warnings, let’s get back to testing iPadOS. Once the installation is done, you’re met with a «Welcome» dialog. The iPad has recently become obsessed with Apple Pay and wants you to connect to your account. Erm, no thanks. Dark mode? Yes. Share analytics? Nah. A few more yeses, next, amen and so on.

Split screen? It’s nothing new but it’s still good. You could say the same for most of the features on iPadOS.
Split screen? It’s nothing new but it’s still good. You could say the same for most of the features on iPadOS.

The desktop looks just as it always did. Well, almost exactly the same. The icons are a bit smaller and the key thing here is that Apple is finally making better use of space on the iPad display. Now you get six icons on a line in landscape and portrait mode. It might not sound like much – I still reckon another would fit in comfortably – but it’s still better than the fist-sized icons you got on iOS.

Apart from that, iPadOS just feels like a slightly more modern iOS. Which is hardly surprising given Apple built the operating system on iOS. It’s not like anyone wants the gazillion apps from the App store – RIP, iTunes – to be incompatible with iPads. Thanks to dark mode, the menu is (as you’d expect) dark and unlike Google, Apple understood that a dark mode relies on AMOLED black – otherwise known as HEX #000000. Google, on the other hand, usually use dark grey, which doesn’t tick either of the boxes of saving the battery or being less of a strain on the eyes.

Updated Notes and a better Today: the new features

But the screen area alone won’t cut it for Apple. What grabs your attention in the first few minutes with iPadOS is the Today View. It’s actually something you already know from all the other iOS products. Swipe right from your home screen and another screen with all your widgets and information appears. Until now, a whole screen was dedicated to that. But on the iPad, that meant a large proportion of it was unused.

Apple’s Today View suddenly looks good
Apple’s Today View suddenly looks good

Thanks to changes, the six icons have been pulled together and the shortcut screen is now part of the home screen. It looks great. The widgets can be configured. What intrigues me is the scripting feature. The shortcuts app isn’t new – it’s been around since iOS 12 but now that the Today View is finally in a place that’s useful and easy-to-access, it seems a lot more attractive. But a script needs a bit more time and a specific use case. Or a nice feature. The widgets are reliant on the apps. Depending on the app you’ve installed, you can anchor other widgets to the side panel, which used to be the Today Screen. The latest trailer on IMDB, for instance? No problem. Plex? Yip, you can do that too. For the first time, I can see myself using the Today Screen on a daily basis.

Don’t worry if your favourite app doesn’t have a widget. You can create a shortcut. That’s practical when you’ve got numerous apps or endless screens and you haven’t sorted them. But you can only do that with «open app». You can compile routes of «current location» to another popular address, display system data and so on. Most of the time, it’s self-explanatory and funny but if your apps are already neat and tidy on the home screen then this panel is, aside from the scripting, pretty useless.

The only bug in beta that I’ve discovered so far
The only bug in beta that I’ve discovered so far

Re the bugs I mentioned before, there’s only one I’ve come across in Apple’s beta event this year. And that’s when I’m in scripting mode and I want to change the text but Apple forgets the dark mode.

It’s nice and all but it’s not going to blow your socks off

Let’s be honest, iPadOS was quite a few years coming. In its current state, the operating system isn’t going to set hearts alight. You’re more likely to associate it with a sigh and the words «eurgh, finally…». iPadOS delivers features that are a bare minimum for an operating system on a tablet but we somehow didn’t get them until now.

Notes also got a bit of a refurb
Notes also got a bit of a refurb

iPadOS is not exactly groundbreaking but it does show that Apple still believes in the tablet concept and is continuing to develop it. The current version of iPadOS is nice and a lot more practical and compact than iOS but it’s still lacking that wow factor.

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Dominik Bärlocher
Dominik Bärlocher
Senior Editor, Zurich
Journalist. Author. Hacker. A storyteller searching for boundaries, secrets and taboos – putting the world to paper. Not because I can but because I can’t not.

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