With all the talk surrounding Apple Vision Pro, it’s easy to forget that we also have some new OS updates on the way from the big fruit company.

Over the next few days, I’ll be offering my thoughts on each one unveiled by Apple at WWDC 2023, and I will start with iPadOS 17.

This wasn’t a big year for iPadOS. The updates are, to all intents and purposes, either catching up with iOS or following suit with the latter’s 2022 updates.

This, ironically, continues the iPad’s role as “just a big iPhone” – and I mean that in the best possible way. Now that we’re seeing pro iPad apps finally emerge from Apple’s own development team, that side of the fence is catered for. For everyone else (including, more often than not, yours truly) we don’t want anything more from the iPad than a big iPhone experience.

That makes 2023 a good year for the iPad. Let’s get into it.

The 6 best features coming to iPadOS 17

I’ve identified six updates in iPadOS 17 which I’m looking forward to trying the most when it lands later this year.

1. Customisable lock screen

Last year, iPhone owners gained the ability to customise their Lock Screen. Somewhat overdue (Android has, arguably, always stolen the march on Apple with this sort of stuff) the feature was at least very well implemented.

Why those customisation options didn’t travel across to the iPad in 2022 is anyone’s guess (mine is that they needed to pad out the 2023 announcement) but at least we’ll have them this year.

Apple has thrown in a few wallpapers of its own, but we’ll get suggestions from our photo libraries, which, in my experience with the iPhone version, are pretty nice. The inclusion of Live Activities completes an update that will make everyone’s iPad feel nicely refreshed come iPadOS 17 time.

2. Interactive widgets

Apple is clearly using widgets as a way to add a consistent feel to all of its devices. It’s a smart move; when used and placed correctly, widgets are really useful.

iPadOS 17 will enable us to place widgets on the Lock Screen and add interactive widgets to the Home Screen. The ability to quickly turn off your lights, check off a reminder, or play music without having to go into the corresponding app makes perhaps the most sense on the iPad.

3. Health

Health is another one of those “why didn’t it make it to the iPad?” apps. But it’s coming in 2023, and it really does look very nice indeed.

I’m not a big user of Health on the iPhone, but there’s something about that iPad-optimised version which looks really engaging. It’s a classic example of an app which, possibly, suits larger displays and which might tempt people like me to dive into their most important stats.

The ability to create medication reminders, log symptoms, and track your menstrual cycle is also making its way from the iPhone.

4. PDFs

There’s always a dark side to Apple’s OS updates, and it’s the blatant ‘Sherlocking’ of third-party app categories (a term that relates to the introduction of an Apple app that benefits from far deeper system integration than any third party has access to).

This year, it’s developers of iPad PDF apps who will be frantically searching for ways to pivot.

Apple is adding the ability to fill out PDF forms with AutoFill, and view and interact with PDFs directly in Notes. The latter feature swaps attached PDFs for fully embedded PDFs, giving the user access to all PDF viewing and annotation features within the Notes app.

This also enables iCloud users to collaborate on the same PDF in real time. Scribble on a PDF you’ve shared with someone else, and they’ll see that scribbling, immediately, on their iPad.

It raises the question every app developer fears: why would you bother installing anything else?

5. Stage Manager updates

I’ve made my feelings about Stage Manager known on multiple occasions. It feels like a shoehorned Mac-like feature which no one needed on the iPad.

Despite this, its presence on the iPad has shown brief glimpses of promise. One of the most frustrating limitations is the inability to resize or move windows in any way you like. Each one is bound to a very specific size and position imposed by iPadOS.

In iPadOS 17, we’ll apparently have more flexibility over moving and resizing windows. Apple’s website promises that users will be able to “set up your workspace just the way you want it”.

We’ll see. But I’m hopeful.

6. External camera support

If this was mentioned during the keynote presentation on Monday, I missed it, but it’s potentially huge.

iPadOS 17 will allow your iPad to use external cameras for FaceTime and conference calls, rather than the iPad’s own. This is compatible with a wide range of iPads, from the iPad mini to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and there are already plenty of people taking to Twitter with photos of their iPad utilising an external webcam.

Imagine if this ability extends to capturing footage via your DSLR camera and feeding it directly into Final Cut Pro (as you can with the iPad’s camera). Now that would pique my interest.

Wrapping up

I’m happy with this year’s list of updates for iPadOS. They’re not going to set the world alight, nor will they significantly change the way we use our iPads, but they will turn it into a more refined, customisable device.

Aside from the above, there are also great updates for Messages, FaceTime, and Safari.

There’s just one app missing. Again.

Craig. Mate. Where is the calculator?

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