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What is iPadOS? Everything you need to know

< type="image/webp"/>iPad Mini iPadOS 15 Home Screen

Nick Fernandez / Android Authority

The Apple iPad has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Being the crowned king of tablets today, it has undergone many changes over the years. Yet for a long time it was limited by iOS, a mobile operating system that struggled to keep up with the computing prowess of the iPad as the years passed. Enter your replacement, iPadOS.

Apple introduced iPadOS as an iOS fork for iPads, in 2019. Since then, all iPads run on iPadOS, rather than iOS. But what exactly is iPadOS and how is it different from iOS?

Also read: Your guide to the best tablets

What is iPadOS?

< type="image/webp"/>Apple ipad air 2020 review vs ipad pro 2021

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

iPadOS is the operating system that Apple created for modern iPads, with a focus on multitasking. Apple introduced the first version of this operating system, iPadOS 13, along with iOS 13 in 2019. Before that, iPads ran on iOS, except that iPads had features added each year that differed from what was available on iOS at the Iphone.

These iPad-specific features on iOS include picture-in-picture, multitasking, drag-and-drop, and a more convenient dock. These differences led the operating system to become a different branch, which is now iPadOS. iPadOS is based on iOS, but it takes some design and functionality cues from macOS.

RelevantApple’s IPadOS 15 is a wake-up call for Android tablet makers

IPadOS Features – iPadOS vs iOS

< type="image/webp"/>Apple iPad Pro 2020 standing with iPhone

iPadOS has all the key features of iOS, but some features set it apart from the mobile operating system. These are some of the important features of iPadOS.


< type="image/webp"/>Apple iPad 2021 landscape display

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Multitasking is the most significant change to iPadOS since iOS. There is the basic split view to have two applications open side by side. Plus, you get a Slide Over feature that lets you keep a third app on the screen in a floating window and stack other apps to switch between apps. You can also have multiple instances of an application open and use the App Exposé feature to list all instances.

This is not the same level of multitasking that you get with a desktop operating system. However, it is a definite improvement over the basic multitasking features of iOS.

File management

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Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

Historically, iOS has had little to no file management, but the Files app has constantly been changing that. The iPadOS Files app gets some improvements over the iOS one. The latest iPadOS 15 update brought some features from the macOS Finder app to the Files app. This includes the ability to group files and folders, drag and drop support, and a markup tool for trackpad / mouse file selection, to name a few.

Several iPad models also have USB-C support now, and the Files app has added a file transfer progress indicator and read-only support for NTFS.

Home screen and widgets

< type="image/webp"/>Apple iPad Pro 2020 home screen

The iPadOS home screen lets you choose whether you want a spacious app layout or a more compact one. You can add up to five rows and six columns of apps. Widgets have been a part of iPadOS since the first version, but with version 15, Apple brought them to iOS as well.

< type="image/webp"/>Apple iPad 2020 with Apple Pencil

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Mouse, keyboard and pen support also distinguishes iPadOS from iOS. Apple Pencil support is exclusive to iPadOS and now you get Scribble, a handwriting feature in text. Mouse and keyboard support is available on iOS, but iPadOS gets much better compatibility due to the availability of proprietary accessories.

Mouse support in iPadOS will not give you a normal pointer cursor, but rather a round assistive cursor that snaps to items on the screen to aid navigation. Keyboard shortcuts are activated when you connect a keyboard for a better user experience.


< type="image/webp"/>Apple iPad Pro 2020 Smart Port and Connector

Sidecar is a way to use a compatible iPad as a second monitor for a macOS device. The key feature here is that Sidecar will allow you to use an Apple Pencil to interact with macOS. This is especially useful if you have bought into the Apple ecosystem and use its settings for creative work.

Apps and app features

< type="image/webp"/>Android Authority Home Screen Apple iPad Pro 2020

There are some specific app features limited to iPadOS. For example, Safari on iPadOS behaves like a desktop browser in some way, loads desktop versions of websites by default, and has a proper download manager. Also, some third-party apps like Photoshop have separate versions for iPadOS.

iPadOS vs Chrome OS

< type="image/webp"/>Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook Store Mode

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The iPad is a very popular portable computing machine. It has become a great alternative for people looking for non-portable computing devices. Chromebooks also operate in the same category, and both devices are gaining popularity for education and home use. As such, iPadOS competes directly with Chrome OS.

iPadOS and Chrome OS differ in one key respect: iPadOS is a touch-centric operating system, while Chrome OS focuses on a more desktop-like environment. That is not to say that it is not good on touch devices, of course. Chromebook / detachable tablets and two-in-one devices are fairly common and work quite well. However, iPadOS has the advantage of being compatible with Apple Pencil. Chrome OS stylus implementations have not been as successful.

The app libraries for both platforms are impressive, but Chrome OS gives you more options. With iPadOS, you have the App Store catalog. Chrome OS brings you its own suite of apps, Android apps via the Google Play Store, and the ability to install full Linux apps. iPadOS takes a conservative approach to the number of desktop-like features it includes. Chrome OS, however, does it all.

iPads compatible with iPadOS

All iPads released after the iPadOS launch in September 2019 run on iPadOS. Here are the iPads that you can buy today that are compatible with iPadOS.

iPad (9th generation, model 2021)

< type="image/webp"/>Portrait of the Apple iPad 2021 home screen

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The basic iPad was updated in 2021 and it is still great value for money. It’s the most affordable iPad, priced at $ 329. It doesn’t have the fancy features, but it’s still compatible with the first-gen Apple Pencil and ships with the latest iPadOS 15 out of the box. As we said in our review of the Apple iPad (2021), this one doesn’t have any real competition.

iPad Air (4th generation, 2020 model)

< type="image/webp"/>Apple ipad air 2020 app store review

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

The iPad Air was hugely revamped in 2020 after many years, and it has been a success. The updated iPad Air is now the most balanced iPad you can buy. It incorporates the new design and excellent specs, while keeping the starting price at a modest $ 599. It shipped with iPadOS 14 and has since been upgraded to iPadOS 15.

You get the full spectrum of file management features on iPadOS, thanks to its USB-C port. As our Apple iPad Air (2020) review says, this is the tablet for everyone.

iPad Mini (6th generation, model 2021)

< type="image/webp"/>iPad Mini 2021 Apple TV

Nick Fernandez / Android Authority

iPad Mini is the latest iPad to have received the updated design treatment. It’s the smallest iPad you can buy, and it gets all the goodies of iPadOS, despite its small form factor. It also comes with a USB-C port, which means that iPadOS will also provide you with all the file management functions.

The new iPad Mini is also compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil and comes with iPadOS 15 right out of the box. In our Apple iPad Mini (2021) review, we called it the best small tablet on the market.

11-inch iPad Pro (3rd generation, model 2021)

< type="image/webp"/>iPad Pro 11 inch 2021

iPad Pro has been a great tablet since the first iteration itself, and the 2021 update has been no different. The new 11-inch iPad comes with iPadOS 15 and a Liquid Retina display with 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, also known as ProMotion. You also get USB-C with Thunderbolt and, most notably, Apple’s M1 chip for better performance than ever.

12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th generation, model 2021)

< type="image/webp"/>Apple iPad Pro 2020 money wasted

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro was also updated in 2021 and has all the advantages of the 11-inch model. It is also compatible with the Apple M1 chip and the second generation Apple Pencil. The biggest difference is the display, which is not only larger, but is actually a Liquid Retina XRD display, which uses Mimi-LED technology. We reviewed the latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro in 2020, and the 2021 model makes for an even better deal, giving you the best of iPadOS.

Older iPad Models That Support iPadOS

  • 9.7-inch iPad 5th generation
  • 9.7-inch iPad 6th generation
  • 10.2-inch iPad 7th generation
  • 10.2-inch iPad 8th generation
  • iPad Air 2
  • 3rd generation iPad Air
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad mini 5th generation
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 11-inch iPad Pro
  • 11-inch iPad Pro 2nd generation
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2nd generation
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro 3rd generation
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro 4th generation

Also read: The best accessories you can get for the iPad

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Will iPadOS work on all iPads?
A: No, iPadOS does not work on all iPads, but it does run on plus iPads, except for some really old first-gen models. See the full list of compatible iPads above.

Q: Will iPadOS work on an iPhone?
A: No, iPadOS is exclusive to iPads and does not work on an iPhone.

Q: Can an iPad run macOS?
A: No, an iPad cannot run macOS. Apple has even released an iPad Pro that runs on the same M1 processor found in some of its MacBooks, but it still runs on iPadOS and not macOS.

Above article first published by . We curated and re-published.

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