13+ things to try first when you upgrade to iPadOS

Here are the iPad-only improvements you’ll want to explore.

Apple, iPad, iPad Pro, iOS, iOS 13, iPad OS
Michael Simon/IDG

iPadOS and iOS 13.1 arrive today. When you upgrade your tablet (and phone) to the latest versions of the operating system, here are some of the best new features you’ll want to try. (The focus here is on iPadOS.)

First visit a website...

Visit a website in Safari. You may not notice much, but you will be accessing the full Desktop site, just like when using Safari on a Mac.

Now, open SlideOver

Try this: Open an app in SlideOver. Then open another. Keep doing it.

Now you can swipe between all those apps you have opened in SlideOver – just tap and hold the black bar at the bottom of the SlideOver window, raise it slightly with a gentle rightward movement. You will see a new mini App Switcher window open that lets you explore up to five apps currently open in SlideOver.

Why is this good? Imagine you are working on a project and need to bring in different assets from different apps. This feature makes that pretty easy.

You can use an external drive

iPadOS lets you use an external drive with your iPad. That’s great for handling images stored on any external drive and is surely one of the most requested features from pro users attempting to use their tablets to get work done.

Now, you can. The feature works with USB drives, SD drives and SMB file servers. And it’s simple – though you may need to invest in a USB-C to USB-A dongle (or SD dongle). Using it is as simple as:

  1. Connect the external storage device.
  2. Open the Files app.
  3. Look at the Locations menu and tap the volume to see what’s inside.
  4. That’s it. You can now drag-&-drop files between the storage device and your iPad. You can even compress and decompress files.
  5. You’ll even see SMB-based servers on your network.

You can (kinda) use a mouse

You can use a mouse with your iPad, though its implementation is mainly as an Accessibility feature. Access this as follows:

  • Open Settings>Accessibility>Touch.
  • Now tap Assistive Touch and turn this feature on (toggle to green).
  • While still in Assistive Touch settings, choose Devices in the Pointer Devices screen.
  • Now find (or pair) your mouse. You can use a standard USB mouse so long as you have an adapter.

Update 27/9: You may find this a little limited, but persist. Reader Nathan let me know that you can highlight text with a mouse on an iPad, "You just have to double-click, just like you would with your finger." You can then use the mouse to drag the box to get the content you want to highlight.

He also mentioned how he has been able to use this feature to control his home Linux PC. He used the mouse connected to his iPad, with a VNC connection between the iPad and his Linux machine. The mouse on his iPad controlled mouse movement on the VNC PC. That's quite some super-user stuff. 

More fun with Files

You’ll find a new Column View in Files , which makes it easier to explore nested filing systems. Once you have found a file you want to use, tap and hold its icon to find the new QuickActions view. This lets you Copy, Duplicate, Move, Delete, get file info, look at, tag, rename, Share AND compress your file. (Yes, compression is built-in).

One more neat Files tip:

If you are on a network and have a shared network drive you can quickly connect to it by pressing the ellipsis (…) icon at the top right of the Browse column.

Scan a document

Did you know you could do this from within Files?

  • Open Files
  • Tap the ellipsis (…) icon.
  • Look – you can Scan Documents here.

Who knew?

Play with Split View

Apple has made some big improvements in Split View. Not only can you open three completely different windows (two in Split View and one in Slide Over). It’s easy to use: Open an app, slide up the Dock, drag-&-drop an app icon to the right or left of the iPad, open it in Split view. Then you can slide up a third app in SlideOver. You can even use this to open three different Safari windows.

Drag an active window up slightly and you’ll get to the App Switcher window – now, with a brand-new twist: You can now see your Split View window, as well as your apps.

Write something swipey

iPads running iPadOS can run QuickPath, which lets you swipe your finger between letters to write words. Machine learning figures out the word you are writing and places it in your copy.

It’s very accurate, but if you are running an iPad you need to get to the floating keyboard to access it: just swipe your thumb and index finger together on the keyboard to get the small mini floating keyboard.

Once you are in that keyboard, you can use QuickType.

Use Apple Pencil on websites

Here’s something else you might want to try:

  • Open a Safari window.
  • Take your Apple Pencil.
  • Swipe up from the left or right of any screen.

Your iPad will automatically take a screenshot of the page. You get to choose to take the entire screen or the full document page. Now you can annotate the image, and explore all the new annotation controls as you do.

You may want to install new fonts

Using your iPad for design? Then you’ll want to install some new fonts.

Unfortunately, it’s a little complicated:

  • You can find new fonts at the App Store (just search for "fonts"). When you find one you like, you just download it like any other app, open it, name it and install a configuration profile.
  • Now you must open Settings>General>Profile, tap the collection and then choose Install.
  • And then (I told you it was complicated) you open Settings>General>Keyboards>Add New Keyboard… and choose Fonts.

(I am a little concerned that the implementation means font publishers can track you when you install a font.)

You really should try Voice Control

You haven’t lived until you’ve controlled your iPad with your voice. (That’s not strictly true, but it’s still cool).

Voice Control is an Accessibility Setting on your iPad. Enable it by toggling it to on  (green). You can then try a series of voice commands, open apps, or search for items. It takes getting used to, but try this to get some sense of what it can do:

  • “Open Photos”: Your photos library will open in the last window it was in.
  • “Show Grid”: A grid will appear. Say the number that’s above an item on the display you want to use.
  • A second grid will appear, repeat the process until the grid size shrinks and it is clear what you have selected.
  • “Double Tap”: The selected album, folder or image will open up, or a command (including Edit commands) will be initiated.
  • When you’re done, say “Go Home” to return to the Home screen.

This feature is life-transforming for so many people, and fun, too.

Use it with a Mac (but not yet)

One of the best new features is Sidecar, which lets you use your iPad as a secondary display for your Mac – and as a graphics tablet using Apple Pencil.

Once macOS Catalina and iPadOS are installed, the easiest way to activate Sidecar is through the AirPlay icon – your iPad should show up as an option there. You can also access the mode using the green traffic light button at the top left of an application window.

You can use an Apple Pencil on your iPad to mark up images for your Mac, and type on the iPad (attached) keyboard if you wish. You’ll also see a new Touch Bar on the iPad for any Mac applications that support it.

You need iPadOS to run this mode, but you also need to upgrade your Mac to run macOS Catalina, which won’t be available until "October." I look forward to it.

One more thing...

Apple has also changed some of the keyboard controls for iPadOS. You can get a complete list of these here

And don’t forget to try Apple Arcade. You get a free month. I'm spending mine in Oceanhorn 2

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