It’s time for a fundamental rethinking of iPadOS with its upcoming version

After years of iteration, it's time for a fundamental rethinking of iPadOS.

WWDC 2022 is just over a month away and with it will come our first glimpse at the future of Apple's software across its various platforms.

After a less-than-groundbreaking iPadOS 15 release last year, I'm hoping that Apple has something special up its proverbial sleeve for the iPad. Before we get the official unveiling in June, let's take a look at all the areas in which iPadOS is crying out for some attention in 2022.

Improved multitasking views

iPadOS 15 did address iPad multitasking, but it didn't go far enough to really revolutionize the experience of using multiple apps side-by-side.

While the new multitasking controls made using Split View and Slide Over easier and more discoverable, the end user experience remained the same.

In iPadOS 16, I'd love to see Apple overhaul multitasking with more ways to display multiple apps on-screen at once. This could take the form of a more freeform Split View, with support for three or four apps sharing the screen, or even see Apple move to a floating window approach.

Parker Ortolani has offered the best concept I've seen so far as to how this could work without having to throw out everything good about the simplicity iPadOS offers right now.

iPad hardware, particularly that of the iPad Pro and iPad Air 5 which both run the desktop-class M1 chip, is more than powerful enough to run several apps simultaneously. Productivity on the iPad is being artificially held back by the software at this point.

Granted, Apple has to make its iPad multitasking a touch-first experience if it is to run across all of its supported devices. That being said, multitasking is already mostly hidden away and is opted into by those that know about it and want to use it. It could get a significant redesign while remaining that type of opt-in power-user feature.

Desktop mode

One thing I love about the iPad is that it becomes whatever you need it to be. Whether you want to use it as a handheld web browser, snap on a keyboard and use it as a laptop replacement, connect an Apple Pencil and use it as a drawing tablet, or pair a Bluetooth controller and play games, the iPad can do it all.

As MacStories editor-in-chief and noted iPad enthusiast Federico Viticci wrote a couple of years ago, the iPad is a modular computer:

"At its core, the iPad Pro is still a tablet; with the right additions, however, it's also become the modular computer I didn't know I needed."

This is exactly why I think iPadOS 16 needs to offer a desktop or "pro" mode. As Bloomberg's Mark Gurman theorized earlier this month, a special mode could be activated when the right accessories are paired, such as Apple's Magic Keyboard or Apple Pencil.

This could allow for more Mac-like multitasking, a more advanced Home screen experience, and even allow for an iPad to properly extend its screen to an external monitor (rather than just mirror the display as is the case now).

As I have written before, the people who spend laptop-like prices on an iPad and a Magic Keyboard today expect a laptop-like experience. iPadOS does not really provide one just yet.

Interactive widgets

Speaking of the Home screen, it's high time that Apple enabled interactive widgets. iPhone widgets launched with iOS 14 and came to iPad, in full, in iPadOS 15 but they aren't as functional as they could be.

While widgets, in their current form, offer convenient glanceable information, they do little else. You can't, for example, check an item off your to-do list in the widget or skip a song. Instead, tapping any part of the widget opens the corresponding app, disrupting your flow.

On the iPad, with its plentiful Home screen real estate, it would be extremely useful to be able to set up a dashboard of glanceable info and interactive widgets for these types of quick actions.

The Apple Music app on Android has an interactive widget, so there is at least hope that Apple will have considered bringing the same functionality to its own OS.

Pro apps

It's so long past due for Apple to bring its first-party pro apps to the iPad that it's possible it never will, but if it wants to continue to tell the pro story of the iPad then it shouldn't wait any longer.

For many years, Apple has pointed creative users to GarageBand and iMovie for making music and movies, but these apps are not as advanced as the pro-grade Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro that Apple makes for the Mac.

Third-party apps have filled some of the holes Apple has left, such as Ferrite and LumaFusion, but many professional users of Apple products already use Apple's apps on their Macs and could stand to benefit from the same apps being available on the iPad.

The same goes for app developers. While Swift Playgrounds 4 was touted as a proper developer tool last year, rather than a purely educational app, it's still not as fully featured as Xcode is on the Mac. The iPad, particularly on the Pro end, is powerful enough for dev work, so let's see Xcode for iPad finally.

Multiple user account support

People have been clamoring for multiple user account support on iPadOS for a long time, and I'm not sure it's ever coming. Though Apple offers the feature on macOS and on Apple TV, the company has always presented the iPhone and iPad as individual devices.

While that may be true for phones, tablets are often used by multiple people in one household. As a former Apple Genius, I have seen the havoc this can wreak on a person's Apple ID or personal privacy.

Multiple account support would be one way that iPadOS could differentiate from iOS, further justifying the name change, while offering more "proper computer"-like functionality. With Family Sharing, Apple could make it really simple to set up, too.

That being said, if a family can all use one iPad, Apple risks selling only one iPad to that family which is likely why this feature has yet to, and may never, appear.

HomeKit hub mode

This is perhaps a niche feature, but one that I would personally love to see in iPadOS 16: a HomeKit hub mode for iPad.

In my home, I have repurposed an old iPad model and turned it into a dedicated HomeKit device by keeping it permanently docked and locked to the Home app via Guided Access. It gives me easy access to my HomeKit accessory controls and is often easier to use on the way out of the door instead of barking Siri commands or fiddling with my phone.

We've seen a lot of dedicated smart displays crop up in recent years for the Alexa and Google Assistant ecosystems, but the only way to replicate it thus far for HomeKit is with something like I have set up.

The problem is, it's a bit of a hacky solution and requires having a spare iPad laying around to do. The Home app is also very information-dense and not all that glanceable. What I propose is an optional mode that the iPad can default to when left docked that shows pertinent HomeKit-related information on the screen.

Amazon does something very similar with Show Mode for its Fire 8 HD Plus and charging dock. With its famed hardware and software integration, Apple could shamelessly crib this idea, sprinkling in some Apple design sense to make it functional and good looking, and even make some money on a first-party docking solution if it wanted to.

Hopefully not more of the same

With WWDC 2022 just over a month away, we have some hopes for the unveiling of the new iPadOS 16. Ever since Apple spun iPadOS out of iOS, we've only really seen iterative updates to the tablet-specific OS.

After a less-than-exciting iPadOS 14 cycle that focused more on refinement, and an iPadOS 15 release that improved some foundational experiences without reinventing the wheel, it's time for a fundamental rethinking of iPadOS with version 16.