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iPadOS 14 first look: the good, the bad and the missing features

iPadOS 14
iPadOS 14 (Image credit: Apple)

Although iPadOS 14 hasn't been officially released to all compatible iPads just yet, its beta recently rolled out to everybody on the Apple Beta Software Program, so we've been able to test out an early build of it.

iPadOS 14 is the new operating system update coming to lots of iPads towards the end of 2020, and it brings a range of new features (many of which are also in iOS 14) which people have been asking for.

We've been testing out iPadOS 14 for a few days now, seeing which of its features are great, which fit naturally into the way we use our iPad, and which might actively change how we use a tablet.

We've broken down the new features into three categories - the good, which we found useful or anticipate being a big part of the iPadOS 14 experience; the bad, which we found didn't work well or we completely ignored; and the missing, or features which were announced as part of iPadOS 14 but don't seem to be present in the beta.

iPadOS 14: the good

Seconds after this screenshot was taken, we were seeing a Google search result page for 'TechRadar'

Seconds after this screenshot was taken, we were seeing a Google search result page for 'TechRadar' (Image credit: TechRadar)

One of the most anticipated features of iPadOS 14 was the ability for it to convert notes written with the Apple Pencil into actual text for text entry boxes, and we're happy to say this seemed to work even better than expected.

When we had selected a text entry box, we could pick up the Apple Pencil and write over it, and the iPad generally recognized what we wrote. Bear in mind we have terrible handwriting, and for the most part the results returned were accurate.

We'd imagine people with neat handwriting will find this feature flawless, and even messier writers won't be disappointed. It's not clear if the AI can learn to understand your handwriting better over time, but that would be neat too.

Not only can you use the Apple Pencil to write, you can also edit text with it. Drawing a horizontal line through text will select it all so you can easily edit it, and drawing a vertical line will add in a space. We'd imagine these will really help people out, as they're easier than using your finger for those same functions.

We just had to type 'g' and 'm' then hit 'enter' and we're into the Gmail app.

We just had to type 'g' and 'm' then hit 'enter' and we're into the Gmail app. (Image credit: Apple / TechRadar)

Another neat iPadOS 14 feature is the improved search bar, as we found one small change sped up operating system navigation. Before, when you searched, apps which seemed to match your search would appear below the search bar, but now when you start typing, the app that seems most like your search term will be auto-appended - if you hit enter, this app opens straight away.

For example, when we typed 'gm', Gmail automatically appeared, and we just had to press enter to open it, rather than reach up to the screen to get it to open. This saved a few seconds every time we were looking to open a different app.

iPadOS 14: the bad

Other than Apple Pencil text conversion, the other anticipated feature for iPadOS 14 (which is mainly an iOS 14 feature) is widgets, and we're very disappointed by their iPadOS 14 beta implementation. Hopefully it will change by the time iPadOS 14 fully rolls out.

Currently, iPadOS 14 widgets can only be displayed on the home screen sidebar, which already housed rudimentary widgets. It doesn't seem that you can move them from this position, ruining the 'customization' ability that we were expecting.

At the moment the widgets are only available for specific Apple apps like Apple Music or Apple Maps, which means the selection is very limited, and presumably app developers will have to all work on making their own individual iPadOS widgets before more will be available. This could take a long time, especially if some developers don't deem it necessary.

The big weather widget on the left won't populate for some reason, though the smaller weather widget above it, and the screen time widget below, eventually did.

The big weather widget on the left won't populate for some reason, though the smaller weather widget above it, and the screen time widget below, eventually did. (Image credit: Apple / TechRadar)

On top of that, the widgets we tested didn't initially manage to pull through stats. The weather and screen time widgets showed blank fields no matter how many times we tried to set them up or reset them, until some (but not all) of the stats curiously appeared unprompted during the writing of this article. This seems to be a bug and it will likely be fixed for future iPadOS 14 beta builds.

Another dubious change is 'compact notifications', which supposedly is meant to make notifications smaller and less intrusive for if you're watching content or playing games. We didn't notice much of a change in notifications at all, except sometimes they didn't even show up. Is this part of the feature or not? Your guess is as good as ours.

iPadOS 14: all the missing features

Plenty of features confirmed or rumored to be part of iPadOS 14 just aren't present in the beta, as far as we could find.

The 'low power mode' that was rumored to be part of the operating system update isn't here, as far as we can tell - there's no mention of it in the Control Center or Battery section of the main menu.

The iOS 14 security feature that was meant to be present in the App Store, where it would apparently list all the permissions an app would ask of you so you can make up your mind whether to download it, doesn't seem to be here either.

When we looked at App Store listings of various apps there was no such feature, but hopefully this will come in later betas of iPadOS 14.

The sidebar in Photos has plenty of options.

The sidebar in Photos has plenty of options. (Image credit: Apple / TechRadar)

The iPadOS 14 sidebar overhaul doesn't seem to be here, at least in certain apps, because in some the only difference we've noticed is it looks slightly different. Other apps have more fleshed-out sidebars though.

So there are quite a few features that aren't available in the iPadOS 14 beta, but their absence isn't worrying, because Apple betas don't always contain all the confirmed features. Instead, Apple likely just wants to test out some of the more anticipated features to make sure it's gotten them right.

In iPadOS 14's next beta release we'd hope to see some of the widget issues fixed, as well as perhaps some of the features on this omissions list.

We're going to continue to test out iPadOS 14 too, just in case there are some features hidden away in the OS that Apple hasn't mentioned and that haven't been discovered yet.