iPadOS 14 SECOND TO NONE
MacFormat UK|December 2020
Last year, the iPad came of age and got its own operating system. This year, it’s ready to party
Adam Banks

Compared to the wow factor of macOS Big Sur, you may think your iPad doesn’t look much different after installing this latest major update. That’s partly because it’s the desktop OS, this time, that’s borrowed ideas – and, via Apple’s Mac Catalyst, quite a lot of code – to catch up with the tablet, rather than the other way around. But you’ll soon find plenty that’s new.

Freed from the iPhone, iPadOS is finding its way towards the power and flexibility of an all-purpose computer without losing the simplicity and immediacy of multitouch. Interface tweaks make your content more accessible and options more discoverable throughout. And while the spring saw users who wanted something more like a laptop generously served by the Magic Keyboard and trackpad, the autumn brings to the fore the accessory Macs can’t match: the Pencil. Now that every current model supports either the first- or second-generation accessory, pen input (while still optional) can take its place at the centre of the iPad experience.

Yes, you can forget the Newton MessagePad, because – helped along by a few billion more transistors and 21st-century machine learning – Apple’s new handwriting recognition actually works. Spreading your scribbles into almost every app, it’s the icing on iPadOS’ second birthday cake.

The same, but different

Universal widgets may sound like a rust-belt normcore band, but they’re the new big noise on the iPadOS 14 Home screen

Your Home screen remains similar to iPadOS 13. Unlike in iOS 14, widgets can’t be mixed in with your app icons, and there’s no App Library view when you swipe all the way left. On the first Home screen, swiping right squishes up the icons to reveal Today View, where you’ll start to see the differences: widgets appear in a new format, and no longer show titles. By default, the top widget is a stack: swipe up or down on it to rotate between widgets.

To rearrange your Today View, press a widget and drag. To change widgets, press one and hold – ignoring the pop-up menu – until the Home screen goes into ‘jiggly mode’. Then tap ‘–’ to remove a widget, or tap ‘+’ at the top left to add another from those provided by your apps. To add widgets not updated for iPadOS 14, scroll to the bottom of Today View (still jiggling) and tap Customise.

Some widgets show an Edit Widget option when you long-press (or tap in jiggly mode). For example, the Weather widget lets you choose a location. Unlike in macOS Big Sur, options don’t include size. So if Weather is a Small widget and you want to see more, go into jiggly mode and remove it, then tap ‘+’ at the top left, tap Weather and swipe left to see the Medium and Large size options. Tap Add Widget to use the size shown. To make stacks, drag a widget onto another. This can’t be undone. Long-press and choose Edit Stack to re-order widgets or turn on Smart Rotate, meaning iPadOS shows the widget most likely to be relevant right now. From the ‘+’ in jiggly mode, pick Smart Stack to create a stack with widgets chosen for you. Once accepted, the list is fixed. Another smart option is the Siri Suggestions widget, which constantly repopulates itself with relevant actions.

Siri and search

When invoked by the methods enabled in Settings > Siri & Search > Ask Siri, Siri appears as a blob in the bottom right corner instead of taking over the screen. Any visual results, including new ‘web answers’, pop up in the same place. This is a big improvement, but Apple hasn’t quite decided what should happen when you then try to get on with what you were doing. While Siri is listening or thinking, any taps or swipes interrupt it. While it’s showing answers, we could sometimes take actions such as scrolling content without disturbing it, but often it would go off in a huff. It would be ideal if Siri could hover independently – and respond without ducking our music.

Similarly, Search, accessed as before by swiping down on the Home screen, now appears in a bubble rather than taking over the display. You still get Siri Suggestions, and search results appear as you type.

1 Slide rule The Today view slides in when you swipe right from the Home screen. This switch keeps it visible alongside your app icons.

2 Square dance Widgets, which now work across iOS, iPadOS and macOS, have a new look and a choice of sizes. Press and drag to arrange.

3 More or less Long-pressing a widget activates ‘jiggly mode’. Tap ‘–’ to remove a widget or ‘+’ at the top left (not seen here) to add more.

4 Choice cuts When you add a widget, this gallery shows all of those available. Widgets are installed as part of apps that offer them.

5 Just for you Widgets for App or Shortcut Suggestions will show whatever iPadOS thinks is likely to be relevant at any time.

6 Pile driver Stacking widgets means you can rotate between them in the same slot. Smart Stack suggests a set of widgets to stack.

Mail, maps and AR

Protecting your personal data while simultaneously using it to power real-time services is all in a day’s work for iPadOS 14

While iMacs and MacBooks have a green LED to show their built-in cameras are active, iPads don’t. But iPadOS 14 displays a green dot when any app is accessing the camera, or orange when the mic alone is in use. The dot normally appears to the left of the icons at the top right; in views that hide these, such as the Camera preview or a FaceTime call, the dot appears in the corner.

When you allow an app to access your photos, you can now select which ones. It’s reassuring to know it won’t automatically see new pics, but we’d like to be able to select an album. In Settings > Privacy > Location Services, when you allow location access for an app, you can turn off Precise Location to use an approximation. This option also appears whenever an app requests your location. There’s only one switch for all websites in Safari, though.

Safari will warn you if a password you’re using is one that’s been compromised in a known data breach. Sites that support Sign in with Apple, which lets you set up an account without sharing personal data, can offer to ‘upgrade’ you to it from an existing login. And websites can now offer to log you in using Face ID or Touch ID directly, rather than to unlock stored login details.

For the first time in iPadOS (and iOS), you can set a third-party app as your default browser or email client instead of Safari or Mail. After installing an app certified by Apple for these purposes, go to Settings, choose either the app you want to switch from or the one you want to switch to, and tap Default Browser App.

See the world differently with AR

>Many of the enhancements to Apple’s augmented reality API, ARKit, take advantage of hardware innovations exclusive to the 2020 iPad Pro models. The LiDAR scanner on the back and face-tracking on the front camera, for example. LiDAR, now also built into the iPhone 12 Pro, enables precise real-time depth measurement, so virtual objects can be more precisely integrated into a real-world view using the RealityKit framework. It also supports tasks like measuring and modelling real objects and scenes. Another new feature, Location Anchors, lets developers site experiences in the real world for you to discover, and also works on the iPad Pro 10.5-inch, the iPad Air (3rd generation) and later, and the current iPad mini (5th generation).

FIND YOUR WAY AROUND MAPS IN iPadOS 14

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