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Apple iPadOS 15: Everything you need to know

Apple’s iPadOS 15 software update released on September 20, bringing the various iPads much closer to being stand-alone devices for productivity. The new iPad software makes multitasking easier to grasp and adds features that simplify working with multiple apps, like Quick Notes and center window overlays for some apps.

Multitasking menu

Apple has been improving the iPad’s multitasking steadily since the first iPad Pro arrived in 2015. While iPadOS 15 doesn’t revamp what multitasking looks like, it makes the existing multi-app configuration easier to navigate.

Typing an an iPad.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Split View and Slide Over are still the centerpieces of Apple’s multi-app strategy, and they’re easier to find than ever. Now sitting at the top-center of every app is a three-dot menu. Selecting that menu pops up three icons: Full Screen, Split View, and Slide Over.

After selecting either Split View or Slide Over, the current app will scoot off to the very edge of the screen, and you’ll see the Home Screen. Once you tap on an app’s icon in the Home Screen, Dock, or App Library, the two apps will snap automatically into the selected configuration. You can also create a Split View in the App Switcher by dropping one app on top of another.

Split view in iPadOS 15.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

If you want to change which apps are in Split View, swipe downward from the multitasking menu of the app you want to discard to choose a new secondary app. Once you’re finished multitasking, pick the Full Screen option to go back into single-app mode.

Quick Notes

Apple’s Notes app has always prioritized simplicity, providing blank virtual pages to input thoughts, ideas, or sketches for iCloud safekeeping. But with iPadOS 15, Apple is finally giving its note-taking service greater depth and organization.

An Apple Pencil points at the multitasking menu on an iPad screen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Both iPadOS 15 and MacOS Monterey are adding a new feature called Quick Notes to iPads with A9 chips or newer. Quick Notes is a pop-up window you can open by swiping up from the bottom-right corner of the screen or with a keyboard shortcut (Globe-Q). Quick Notes are persistent overlay windows, so they’ll snap into whichever corner you drag them to and then stay there until you swipe them away. You can also close them using the same keyboard shortcut or by tapping Done.

Quick Notes lets you link to the exact place in the app that was in the foreground when you jotted the note. Say, for example, you’re in the Messages app and you activate Quick Notes to help you remember a restaurant suggestion your friend made. If you choose the “add link” option, that note will include a link to your friend’s Messages thread.

Your Quick Notes will save automatically in their own notebook in the Notes app. And the Settings app allows you to choose whether the Quick Notes window always starts a new note or resumes the last one. You can also swipe left and right to move between any other Quick Notes you’ve previously saved, so you can have several on the go at the same time.

Quick Notes on iPadOS 15.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

Quick Notes could be especially convenient for creating a project that draws from information in multiple apps. Instead of ending up with a messy desktop full of scattered windows, you stash everything in the Notes app, including links that can pop you immediately back to the parts of iPadOS where you gathered your information. Those links also work on your iPhone and Mac, too.

The Notes app further expands its organizational abilities with tags. Now, typing a hashtag symbol and then a tag word will automatically file that note under a new or existing tag. Tags are a long-overdue addition that brings the Notes app closer to specialized note services such as Evernote or Bear. Quick Notes will also create custom Smart Folders based on tags.

New Safari design

In iPadOS 15, Safari gets one of the biggest redesigns it’s had in years, with a new compact tab bar that lets you maximize screen space. The design isn’t for everybody, so Apple has made it optional, but when it’s switched on, the tab bar and address bar are merged, letting you dedicate more of the screen to whatever you’re browsing.

New Safari Tab layout in iPadOS 15.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

Naturally, iPadOS 15 also includes all of the other Safari goodness from iOS 15, including Tab Groups so you can save and organize whatever you’re browsing and keep it in sync across all of your devices. It also brings over the customizable start page from the MacOS version of Safari, along with support for extensions, both of which are especially useful on the iPad’s larger screen.

Center window

The new iPadOS 15 adds floating windows in Mail, Notes, and Messages. Tapping and holding your finger down on an individual email, note, or message gives you the option of popping it out into a floating window. This center window is similar to Slide Over, but the overlay hovers in the middle of the screen.

Center window in Mail in iPadOS 15.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

Unlike Quick Notes, center windows are tethered to the app. For example, if you pop out a Mail message into a center window, it doesn’t remain on your screen when you switch to Safari or the Home Screen. The center window also includes a multitasking menu, so you can switch to Full Screen or another view if you need more space, or want to keep it in view while in another app. In this case, there’s also a fourth icon that lets you put it back in the center.

If this is all starting to sound complicated, that’s because iPadOS is indeed adding a lot more depth. But rather than copying the way things have been done for years on MacOS and Windows, Apple is rethinking what a productivity OS can be.

App shelf

In iPadOS 15, Apple makes it easier to view multiple instances of a single app. When opening an app with multiple windows, a “shelf” will appear at the bottom of the screen to display all open instances of that application. The shelf also includes an option to create a new window for that app.

App shelf on iPadOS 15.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

If you want to switch windows, select its corresponding icon in the shelf. Or, you can close an inactive window by swiping up on it. The app shelf will disappear after a few seconds, but you can display it again by tapping on the multitasking menu.

Keyboard shortcuts

After the 2020 release of Apple’s Magic Keyboard, the iPad is associated more than ever with physical typing and cursor input. As a result, Apple is beefing up that aspect with new keyboard shortcuts in iPadOS 15.

A menu on an iPad screen shows globe-key keyboard shortcuts.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Using the Globe key as a new modifier, Apple added new shortcuts to make it quicker and easier to navigate around the iPad’s software.

Some of these shortcuts include:

  • Siri
  • App Switcher
  • Next App
  • Previous App
  • Split View and Slide Over controls
  • Quick Notes
  • Show Dock
  • Control Center
  • Notification Center

Holding down the Globe key in any app will pop up a menu showing which shortcuts you can use, so you can learn these shortcuts without trial and error. You can also hold down the CMD key in an app to see the shortcuts that are available for that particular app.

iPhone-only apps in landscape

The iPad has always let you run iPhone-only apps, only blown up for the bigger screen. But iPhone apps on the iPad were never an ideal experience, especially since you could only use them in portrait mode. The portrait requirement meant they weren’t great for multitasking and they weren’t really compatible with typing accessories like Apple’s Magic Keyboard.

In iPadOS 15, you can now run iPhone apps in landscape mode. This addition is especially handy for social apps, where you’ll do plenty of typing.

Other iPadOS 15 features

The new iPadOS adds several iOS features that arrive a year behind its iPhone brethren. These include the App Library and Home Screen widgets. You can read up on them in our iOS 14 coverage.

The new iPad software also receives the same marquee features from iOS 15, including new FaceTime upgrades, Live Text, Focus modes, Mail privacy features, and more. You can read up on iOS 15 for more detail.

What features came with iPadOS 15.1

Not every feature that Apple announced for iPadOS 15 made it into the initial 15.0 release, so iPadOS 15.1 filled in some of the most significant gaps, adding SharePlay and support for pulling Live Text directly from the Camera app. This latter feature had come to the iPhone with iOS 15.0, but took a little bit longer to make its debut on the iPad.

What features are coming in iPadOS 15.2

With iPadOS 15.2 currently in public beta, we’ve already had a glimpse of what Apple’s plans are for this next major release. The most visible of these is a redesigned layout for Apple’s TV app that will make it easier to find what you want to watch.

Apple TV app on iPadOS 15.2.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

The TV app gets the same sidebar treatment that came to many of Apple’s other first-party apps in iPadOS 14, along with distinct Movies and TV Shows sections to help you find content to purchase or rent on the iTunes Store.

As usual, iPadOS 15.2 will also gain the same upcoming features as its iPhone counterpart, including the ability to scan for any unknown AirTags that might be nearby, as well as support for adding a Legacy Contact to your Apple ID and creating Hide My Email addresses when composing new messages in the Mail app. There’s also Communication Safety in Messages (but not the more controversial CSAM Detection feature that concerned many privacy advocates). There’s no word yet on when the final public release of iPadOS 15.2 will arrive.

Coming later in 2021

One of the most significant new iPad features will be Universal Control, which hasn’t been released yet. It was expected to launch with MacOS Monterey in October, but doesn’t like it will be showing up until at least MacOS 12.1 later this fall. Universal Control will let you control a Mac and an iPad side by side – up to three devices in total – with the same cursor.

Setting it up will be as simple as placing the devices near each other and moving the mouse or trackpad pointer off the edge of the first device’s screen. It will even support drag-and-drop between those devices. It’s basically an extension of the Sidecar feature that Apple added in iPadOS 13 two years ago.

Another tool that hasn’t received much attention is Swift Playgrounds, an app for learning to create apps and code for iOS and iPadOS. Currently, once you learn to code, you need a Mac to actually create apps.

Swift Playgrounds 4 on iPad.

After Swift Playgrounds 4 is released, that’s going to change. The update will introduce SwiftUI, which allows you to develop code and see how it changes your app in real time. You’ll be able to learn to code, create apps, and submit them to the App Store, all from your iPad.

Which iPads will get iPadOS 15?

The new update is available on all devices that support iPadOS 13 and iPadOS 14. Naturally, the newly announced iPad Mini and iPad will support it as well. That includes these devices:

  • iPad Air 2 and newer
  • iPad (5th generation) and newer
  • iPad Mini (4th generation) and newer
  • iPad Pro, all models

Some features are limited to devices with certain chips. The only models that don’t have A9 chips (or newer) are the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 4. For iOS 15 features that require A12 Bionic chips, you’ll need these devices:

  • iPad Air 3 or newer
  • iPad Mini 5 or newer
  • iPad (8th generation) or newer

Editors' Recommendations

Will Shanklin
Senior Writer, Mobile Tech
Will Shanklin began writing for online-tech publications more than a decade ago. During that time, he has worked for media…
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