It’s public beta time!

Earlier this week, Apple released preview versions of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS for the general public. So, for the adventurous, you no longer have to be a developer to get a glimpse at what’s to come later this year.

Hardware disappointments aside, WWDC was pretty exciting. But there was one operating system that delivered nothing but disappointment for many – myself included.

Yep – iPadOS.

Arguably, it had the biggest shoes to fill, thanks to the release of the M1 iPad Pro earlier this year. Would we finally see pro apps arrive on Apple’s tablet? Would there be some form of wholesome, shared processing-based integration with macOS? Would iPadOS receive a complete macOS-like overhaul?

Nope. Instead, we got widgets, updates to FaceTime and slightly better multitasking.

So, when the public beta hit the shelves this week, I just had to give it a try. Is iPadOS 15 really a letdown? Or are we missing something?

What follows is my experience of using Apple’s latest iteration of iPadOS for a single day. As is customary, I haven’t dived too deep; I’ve simply used it as I would normally use my iPad.

This is what has jumped out during that time.

Is iPadOS 15 public beta stable?

First things first – this is an operating system in the beta phase. Therefore, if you’re considering installing it on an iPad on which you rely for work or personal reasons, I’d think twice.

Despite this, the first public beta version appears to be remarkably stable. There’s a bit of weirdness here and there; it’ll randomly crash back to the Lock Screen for no apparent reason, and there are some odd user interface glitches (content not loading, app icons not returning to the Home Screen – that kinda thing).

But on the whole, it got me through most of yesterday without being particularly frustrating.

However, the next release could be much worse. I’m prepared for that and I’m lucky enough to have more than one iPad.

If you only have just one device, and it means the world to you for whatever reason, I’d wait for the official release later this year and leave it to idiots like me to test this stuff out ahead of time.

Tabs in Safari

I’m a big Safari user. In fact, I’ve never understood why so many people are obsessed with Chrome.

I’m therefore always interested in any updates Apple makes to its web browser, and this year they’ve improved it significantly.

The new tab functionality is brilliant.

Tabs are now displayed neatly in the address bar area, right at the top of the screen and essentially combine the tab list with the address bar itself (the latter simply moves to whichever tab is active). This means there’s more screen real estate for the website to play with, and Apple has somehow ensured that enough detail about each tab (namely the favicon and page title) remains.

It does take some getting used to, though. When you open the new version of Safari for the first time, you’re presented with the left-hand sidebar by default. Apple has used this area to place shortcuts to the Start Page, Private mode, bookmarks, Reading List and browsing history.

It’s as though they want you to either leave the sidebar permanently open or get used to flipping it open whenever you want to access any of the aforementioned areas. I need to spend more time with it, but I found myself immediately adding the bookmarks bar in settings, which returned the new version of Safari to a pleasingly macOS-like state.

The sidebar is also where you’ll find the main controls for the new Tab groups feature. This enables you to quickly recall collections of open tabs. I dismissed it at first, but it’s actually pretty handy. For instance, I’ve got a tab group for when I’m working on the blog (it automatically opens Medium, Capitalize My Title, my website login and more), and a tab group that opens all of my analytical pages for the reviews brand.

The only slight irritation is that the tab group switcher that appears to the left of the address bar disappears when you return to the start page; I’d love it to be there constantly.

Focus mode

I’m pretty good at focusing on my work. This comes from years of working in solitary confinement as a freelancer, but also because, generally speaking, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid.

But there are still so many distractions in this digital world. It was therefore encouraging to see the announcement of ‘focus’ modes for iPadOS, iOS and macOS.

I felt the detail on this new feature was pretty light during WWDC, but now I’ve got my hands on it, I can see how useful it’s going to be.

I’ve only created one focus mode so far, which is for work, but there appears to be just enough customisation on offer to make it useful. Mine is configured to only allow notifications from a couple of important people, and from apps that pertain to work. I’ve also allowed time-sensitive notifications to creep through.

But that isn’t the best part.

Focus modes have the option to define a custom page that displays when the mode is enabled. You can still reach the new App Library (thank god that’s on the iPad now!) when swiping to the left, but no other app pages will be accessible.

This prompted me to create an app page specifically for work. It includes only work-related apps and a few useful widgets (I’ll get onto those next). The fact the focus mode switches immediately to that page and removes access to any others is surprisingly useful and genuinely helps you focus on the task at hand.

Widgets!

We poked fun at the prospect of widgets arriving on iPadOS during the first episode of the Eight or Sixteen podcast. And while I’d still rather see some form of a pro overhaul for the iPad itself, now I’ve got my hands on those widgets, I’d like to retract some of that mickey-taking.

They’re really cool.

On my Home Screen, I’ve added the photos widget for those timely, happy reminders of past events, alongside the news widget and my recently played tracks on Apple Music.

But it’s the combination of my work focus mode and the widgets I’ve placed on my new work-centric app page that is so useful. On there, I’ve added widgets for Toggl, Things, multi-device battery status and a clock for a timezone with which I interact regularly.

This is how widgets on the iPad should have been, right from the start. They’re late, but well implemented and do make the device feel a little more useful.

Multitasking

I’ve been a big user of multitasking on the iPad, ever since I attached my iPad Pro to a Magic Keyboard. But it has been a very ham-fisted implementation.

Until now.

In previous versions of iPadOS, users were expected to discover the multitasking capabilities, but in iPadOS 15, we finally have persistent controls which demand to be tapped.

At the top of every app, you’ll now find a little control which, when tapped, reveals an app ‘snapper’ (not the official term), enabling you to window it to the left or right of the screen, either in split-screen mode or as a hovering app.

There’s also an option to set the app back to full screen, which was always needlessly complicated on previous versions of iPadOS.

I also like that you can now create split views from the app switcher – this is more useful than you might think and enables you to simply drag apps that are already open alongside other apps for a split-screen view of the two.

Why it took Apple so long to get to this stage I have no idea. Like widgets, the ease with which you can undertake multitasking in iPadOS 15 should have been here a long time ago.

Also, I’ve found that the more I use the new multitasking options, the more I dearly wish there was an escape key on the Magic Keyboard – for whatever reason, it feels natural to reach out for one to exit out of certain screen states. Come on, Tim.

Quick Notes

I’m yet to delve into this fully, but it really does have promise.

A Quick Note can be drawn up no matter where you happen to be in iPadOS 15. You simply swipe up from the right-hand corner of the screen to reveal a small, square, empty note. You can do this with both the Apple Pencil and your finger.

As noted recently, I don’t use Apple Notes with the Apple Pencil, but I have a feeling I’m going to need to start doing so if I want to reveal the full potential of Quick Notes.

You can type into a Quick Note, but it does seem to be mostly tuned for the Pencil. Despite this, you can also place pretty much any form of content in there, including web addresses and links to highlighted passages on web pages, to which Safari will return when you draw up the Quick Note in question.

Quick Notes themselves are held in their own permanent folder in the Notes app, and I think the idea is that you regularly triage those notes by moving them into folders (unless you’re happy to simply let them pile up).

I need to spend more time with Quick Notes, but it seems far more useful than gimmicky, which was my initial fear.

That’s it! After a day with iPadOS 15, I’m actually quite excited. I remain concerned about Apple’s seeming inability – or will – to take it beyond anything other than a large version of iOS, but I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve enjoyed using it as an alternative to my M1 MacBook Air.

I’ll keep you updated as the public beta process continues.