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iPadOS 18 hands-on: Better at math and notes, still feels like iOS on a tablet

The upcoming iPadOS update packs some power-user features that students will appreciate, but not much beyond that.

Published onJune 13, 2024

Earlier this week at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple officially previewed the OS versions coming to its devices later this year. While a significant chunk of WWDC24’s opening keynote was dedicated to Apple Intelligence, we still got plenty of other features across iOS 18, macOS Sequoia, iPadOS 18, and watchOS 11.

Soon after concluding the main keynote, the company issued the first developer betas of the aforementioned OS versions. Despite Apple Intelligence and many other announced additions not making it to the first beta builds, there’s still plenty to look into and try. To spare you the unstable, pre-release software life, I installed iPadOS 18 developer beta 1 on my iPad and have documented my experience using it so far. Here’s everything I’ve found in iPadOS 18 beta 1 and my thoughts on how it’s shaping up.

iPad Air 5th gen connected to an external display 1
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

When Apple revealed the iPad Pro M4 and iPad Air M2 last month, I was confident it would reserve some mind-blowing exclusives for iPadOS 18. After all, iPadOS in its current form doesn’t leverage the full power of Apple’s M-series chips. While I wasn’t expecting a macOS-like update, I had assumed these premium tablets would at least start supporting Xcode. After all, Apple is embracing the mobile versions of Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, and it’s pushing the iPad to support Pro apps.

I was so very wrong. iPadOS 18 offers 2024’s iPad models no relevant exclusive features. In fact, iPadOS 18 barely offers any iPad-only features that aren’t bundled with its iOS counterpart. Despite Apple trying to differentiate between iOS and iPadOS in recent years, version 18 on both devices is largely the same. The iPad still feels like a stretched-out iPhone.

The crossover between iOS 18 and iPadOS 18

As mentioned earlier, most iPadOS 18 features are also offered by iOS 18. We’ll briefly highlight the similarities in this piece, and you can read the in-depth explanations in our dedicated iOS 18 hands-on article.

Home Screen personalization

iPadOS 18 tinted App Library
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

iOS 18 introduces a fully customizable Home Screen, allowing iPhone users to place app icons anywhere and tint them using any shade. iPadOS 18 beta 1 is no different, and you can utilize the same set of tools to personalize your iPad’s Home Screen.

Control Center customization

iPadOS 18 Control Center customization
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

Similarly, iPadOS 18 beta 1 offers the same overhauled Control Center, allowing iPad users to fully control the toggles’ placement. Just like on iOS 18, you can have multiple Control Center pages and resize supported toggles, too. Apple seemingly hasn’t included any notable iPad exclusives in this department beyond the obvious size difference.

Redesigned Photos app

iPadOS 18 redesigned Photos app
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

Like iOS 18, iPadOS 18 beta 1 completely overhauls the Photos app, bringing a fresh, customizable UI, new automatic categories, and fluid animations. The app offers pretty much the exact same features on both platforms, beyond the iPad-exclusive sidebar and stretched-out interface.

Upgraded Messages

iPadOS 18 new iMessage features
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

The case with the Messages app is no different. iPadOS 18 beta 1 packs the same iOS 18 texting upgrades, including support for emoji reactions, message effects and formatting, and scheduled sending.

New Passwords app

iPadOS 18 new Passwords app
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

iPadOS 18 beta 1 additionally introduces the new Passwords app found on iOS 18. You get the same features on the larger canvas, such as filtering passkeys, accounts with 2FA enabled, Wi-Fi passwords, and more. You similarly get to generate QR codes for saved Wi-Fi passwords as well.

Other similarities

iPadOS 18 audio transcript in Notes app
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

Beyond those features, iPadOS 18 beta 1, like iOS 18, offers deeper integrations between Calendar and Reminders, a redesigned Settings app,  audio transcription in Voice Memos and Notes, and a Game Mode that minimizes background activities when playing games to boost their performance.

With the common additions now out of the way, let’s examine how iPadOS 18 shines in ways iOS 18 doesn’t.

iPad finally has a calculator, and boy, does it calculate

iPadOS 18 new Calculator app
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

For over 14 years, the iPad has not offered a native Calculator app. While users could always find plenty of third-party options on the App Store, it was an inconvenience that no one could logically explain. Fortunately, the past has passed, and the present finally offers an Apple Calculator app on iPad through iPadOS 18 beta 1.

The new Calculator app on iPadOS is also available on iOS 18, but we’ve reserved breaking down its advanced features for this hands-on article as it makes more sense on the bigger display. That’s especially the case when coupled with the other integrations we will get to in a bit. If you only have an iPhone, you will still be able to use pretty much all of the iPadOS tools we’re about to highlight when you update your device to iOS 18.

After 14 years, we finally have a calculator on iPad — and it's good!

When you launch the Calculator app on iPadOS 18 beta 1, you will be greeted by a basic user interface. Towards the top-left corner, there’s a sidebar button that reveals the calculation history, a new addition to Apple’s app that iPhone users can rely on, too. Meanwhile, the bottom-left button lets you switch between the three main modes: Basic, Scientific, and Math Notes. There’s also a Convert toggle that lets you convert angles, areas, currencies, data, energy, speed, weight, and many other units.

As its name suggests, the Basic mode supports simple calculations, such as addition and division. The scientific mode, which has also been available on iOS for years, offers more advanced options, like sin, cos, tan, square roots, and more.

Math Notes on iPad Air 5 running iPadOS 18
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got the all-new Math Notes feature. Available on both iOS and iPadOS 18 beta 1, this addition automatically solves math equations when a user types or scribbles them. While the company opted for an Apple Pencil when previewing it, the feature works just fine if you’re using the keyboard to type or your finger to doodle.

So, when you write an equation, the answer will appear directly after you input the equal sign. If you alter the equation afterward, the solution will automatically update to reflect the new value. It’s truly a neat feature that will help countess students with their assignments. Interestingly, the displayed result clones your own handwriting.

Math Notes is a neat feature that will help countess students with their assignments.

Math Notes also supports formulas and can automatically present matching graphs. Similarly, changing the values will tweak the graph in real time. There’s also a slider that allows you to adjust the values and observe the resulting consequences granularly.

iPad Air 5th gen in use as a tablet 1
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Beyond Math Notes, iPadOS 18 beta 1 and its iOS counterpart also introduce a handwriting refinement feature. The software uses machine learning to enhance what you’ve doodled with your finger or Apple Pencil and make it more legible. It’s worth noting that the Math Notes and handwriting refinement features work in both the Calculator and Apple Notes apps, and the same data can typically be viewed and edited from either app.

Freeform gets a scenic upgrade

iPadOS 18 Freeform Scenes
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

Freeform Scenes is another iOS 18 feature we’ve reserved for this iPadOS 18 beta 1 hands-on article. That’s because Freeform, in general, is a whiteboard app that works best on larger screens. Like Math Notes, you can use Freeform Scenes on your iPhone after updating it, but we will demonstrate it on an iPad instead.

Simply put, Scenes in Freeform are like bookmarks. Given that the app offers an infinite canvas, navigating between and keeping track of different board parts can become challenging when working on complex projects.

When you add a Scene, you can easily navigate back to it using the newly added index that lists all available Scenes. You can also rename individual Scenes to make identifying their content from the index easier. You can also print and export them as PDF files.

Scenes in Freeform are like bookmarks, though this is another feature also present in iOS 18, too.

Scenes are invisible on the actual board, so you won’t see their borders or where they start and end. They’re virtual rectangles that encompass specific areas of your Freeform board so you can easily navigate to them when the board gets out of hand.

Beyond Scenes, Freeform on iOS and iPadOS 18 beta 1 also improves content insertion with new guides that help you align and snap elements into place.

A new tab bar

iPadOS 18 new tab bar in Fitness app
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

Besides the aforementioned upgrades, iPadOS 18 beta 1 offers a welcome design update. With this version, some first-party apps have adopted a new tab bar that is similar to that on tvOS. Apps like Apple News, Fitness, and the App Store have already adopted it, and you can expect actively developed third-party apps to follow suit later this year.

The new tab bar floats towards the top-middle of the screen and offers quick shortcuts to some handy in-app destinations. You could always toggle the existing sidebar button to check more options in compatible apps, which then hides the tab bar from view. While this UI change is mostly iPad-centric and isn’t widely available on iPhones, the Fitness+ tab on iOS 18 has exceptionally adopted a similar interface.

iPadOS 18 beta 1 hands-on impressions: The verdict

Apple iPad Pro M2 2022 in Magic Keyboard
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

After using iPadOS 18 beta 1 for two days, I’ve realized that Apple intentionally wants to keep holding back the iPad. There’s too much wasted potential in the tablet department, and the company is choosing not to capitalize on it. The Cupertino firm could compete with Windows-powered tablets and convertibles if it adjusts its iPadOS vision and allows users to access more desktop-level features.

As my time testing the iPadOS 18 beta 1 has revealed, 2024’s major iPad operating system update offers no meaningful tablet exclusives. The majority of the additions are all accessible on iOS 18, and we will have to wait at least another year until the company potentially decides to introduce some handy, iPad-only options.

There's too much wasted potential in the tablet department, and Apple is choosing not to capitalize on it.

Beyond the iPad still being an iPad, iPadOS 18 is an okay update, particularly for students. I wish I had access to Math Notes when I was a high schooler. Auto transcriptions in Voice Memos and Notes on the large panel should also make recording and analyzing college lectures a breeze.

Should you download and install iPadOS 18 beta 1?

iPadOS 18 developer beta 1 is aimed at developers building iPad apps. The software is buggy and sometimes unstable, so it could impact your workflow. If you rely on your iPad for studies or work, I would advise you to refrain from installing a beta build on it. You wouldn’t want an app you use or system functionalities to break while you handle important files.

Otherwise, if you have an iPad lying around that you mostly use for TV streaming and playing mobile games, then you could give iPadOS 18 beta 1 a shot if you don’t mind the glitches and inconsistencies. As long as your iPad isn’t one of your primary devices, it should be fine.

Head over to Apple’s website to see how to install it.

When will iPadOS 18 be released?

Apple iPad Pro M2 2022 vs iPad Pro M1
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

Users enrolled in Apple’s developer program can already install iPadOS 18 beta 1. Those who prefer waiting for the public beta program will get their hands on it sometime in early or mid-July. Otherwise, iPad users anticipating the final, stable build can expect its release around late September.

Does my iPad support iPadOS 18?

To run iPadOS 18, you will need one of the following models or a newer variant:

  • iPad Mini 5th generation
  • iPad 7th generation
  • iPad Air 3rd generation
  • iPad Pro 11-inch 1st generation or 12.9-inch 3rd generation

Keep in mind that Apple Intelligence, which will launch later this year, is only supported on M-powered iPad Air and Pro models.

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