iPadOS 14 wish list: Plenty of room for improvement

The iPad is Apple’s platform with the most room to grow. Let’s hope WWDC shows it continuing to move forward.

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It’s been a big few months for the iPad. Apple didn’t just release a (mildly updated) iPad Pro, but a whole new accessory, the Magic Keyboard. In a surprise, iPadOS was updated to support pointer support—an upgrade many iPad users have been wanting for years, tossed into a minor mid-cycle software update.

But as Apple’s annual developer conference looms, what’s next for the iPad? Last year, Apple introduced the concept of iPadOS as a separate variation of iOS devoted just to the iPad. This year at WWDC, that bill comes due: Apple once could hide a lack of iPad updates inside a larger iOS release, but this year we’ll all be wondering what’s new in iPadOS.

With the pointing device stuff taken care of, what are the biggest gaps left in iPadOS, and what’s likely to be announced next month at WWDC? Here’s a list of some of the most glaring deficiencies in Apple’s tablet operating system.

A focus on the keyboard

While iPadOS 13.4 introduced pointer support, an even more important optional input device on iPad is the keyboard. And the iPad’s keyboard support deserves an upgrade.

Neither of Apple’s iPad keyboards—the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard—offer a row of function keys above the number row. Which, fair enough. Years ago, Apple cleverly remapped those keys to be dedicated to media and device control by default—and if you use an iPad with a keyboard that has function keys, they’ll work to play and pause media, raise and lower volume, move between audio tracks, and adjust screen brightness.

Since Apple can’t add a row of function keys in a software update, it should do the next best thing and provide keyboard shortcuts that work with its current keyboard. (One possibility might be to allow users to set a modifier key to act as a Function modifier, so that pressing Globe-1 would be the equivalent of F1.)

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iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard

Even better, though, would be for Apple to supply users with a host of configurable systemwide shortcuts. Apple can set the defaults, but I’d like the ability to re-map those shortcuts to serve my own needs. I’ve used Command-Option Space as a play/pause shortcut, and Command-Option arrow keys for volume and track control on my Mac since the ‘90s. I’d love to import that functionality to my iPad.

Once that’s done, of course, it’s a short step to bind other commands to keyboard shortcuts, most importantly Apple’s own Shortcuts user-automation system. I’d love to be able to set a keyboard shortcut and know that it will fire off the same shortcut, wherever I am.

It’s high time that iPad multitasking was given a rethink, but even if Apple’s not prepared to completely overhaul the system, it at least should make it clearer which side of a Split View is accepting input from the keyboard, and provide keyboard shortcuts to toggle between them.

Finally, I’ll point you to Guilherme Rambo’s recent Twitter demonstration of what a more interactive emoji picker would look like on iPadOS. A keyboard shortcut that brings up a floating search bar to let you search for and insert the right emoji in the right place? Yes, please.

Shortcuts comes into its own

The Shortcuts app, when it was introduced in iOS 12, was largely the same app as Workflow, the third-party app Apple bought. It was given a solid boost last year, but the work is not yet done.

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Apple Shortcuts

Shortcuts needs to add organizational structure to its current free-form interface. Once you make more than a handful of shortcuts, it’s a mess, and there are no folders or tags or any way to filter your shortcuts.

There also need to be more tools to make building Shortcuts easier. You can’t currently select multiple commands within a shortcut for copying and pasting—making it brutal if you want to re-use a series of commands in another shortcut. Sharing shortcuts should be less opaque than it currently is—you have to flip a scary-sounding switch in the Settings app in order to download shared automations.

And in most contexts, when Shortcuts runs, it shows you the commands that it’s executing, step by step. (Imagine if every app you ran scrolled through its source code as it worked!) Users should have the option of a cleaner, simpler approach that only shows a progress bar—or maybe even nothing at all—when a shortcut runs.

Enable more powerful apps

A device is only as powerful as the apps that run on it. And the iPad still lags behind my Mac in numerous areas. iPadOS 14 needs to take steps to enable more ambitious apps.

Take iPad audio, which is so primitive that I still can’t really record a podcast from my iPad without hacks and hardware add-ons. I’d like apps to be able to record system audio, multiple audio inputs, and more, while other apps are also running. I want the equivalent of Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack for iPad.

Or consider the Health app, a cornerstone of Apple’s strategy for Apple Watch and iPhone. It doesn’t exist on the iPad (or the Mac, for that matter), and for the life of me I can’t figure out a good reason why. Sometimes I want to view my health data on my iPad. I also want to pair some Bluetooth-based health devices to my iPad rather than my iPhone, too.

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How 'bout a Terminal app for iPadOS? Why not?

And there are professional apps that still are absent on iPadOS. Does Apple need to make changes in iPadOS 14 in order to finally bring Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro, and xCode to the iPad? If so, let’s get on it. While we’re at it, I’d like to see a Terminal app on the iPad. You heard me. Apple should give programmers (and builders of Workflows) access to the power of the command line that Mac users have had for two decades. Make it secure, sure—but let us run unix scripts and compile from source without having to resort to clever workarounds or add-on hardware.

Give me more

My iPadOS wish list is far longer than any of my lists for Apple’s other platforms. That’s not just because I use my iPad Pro a lot—it’s also because the iPad has the most room for growth and improvement.

I accept that most, if not all of my wish-list items will probably not be fulfilled by iPadOS 14. The most important thing I want to see Apple announce at WWDC is continued change and improvement of the iPad. Apple needs to prove that iPadOS isn’t just a name—it’s a commitment to making the iPad better at every opportunity. If Apple does that, I’ll be happy, even if I don’t get everything I want.

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