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How iOS 9 transforms the iPad (hands-on)

The public beta of iOS 9 is finally here, and it already shows how new changes in iOS 9 make a big difference.

Now Playing: Watch this: iOS 9 changes the iPad, especially the Air 2
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The iPad needed an evolution -- some sort of boost to make it more productive, more like a PC... more like what other tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note and Microsoft Surface have been offering for years. And iOS 9 may well be the ticket to the next level. It's the biggest iPad-focused software update in years, and the public beta that's been released today finally gives people a taste of what it offers.

Curious? Here are the biggest new iPad-specific features. Also, a word of warning: I tried this on a fresh iPad Air 2 ...not my primary tablet. So far things have gone fine, but I'd definitively recommend you think twice about trying the public beta on any iPad or iPhone you rely on daily.

Split View: two apps at once. Sarah Tew/CNET

Split-screen apps

You need an iPad Air 2 to do this, but iOS 9 finally allows two apps to co-exist on one display; it's called Split View. You can even pin one app to stay in place and launch every time an app is opened. For instance, you could have your email stay on the side while you browse Safari, or read the news while you look for travel directions, or browse Apple Music while looking at notes. Both app windows snap into set panes, and right a limited set of apps use Split View. Eventually, all apps will be able to hook into split-screen mode. For now, it's still fun to try with the apps it supports.

Like a side-loading app dock. Sarah Tew/CNET

Slide Over

Swiping from the side brings up a shortcut bar of apps: You can tap one and quickly access an app to respond to messages or write something down. It works on a greater range of iPads, and feels like a smarter type of side-dock.

Video anywhere! Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture-in-picture video

Apps that choose to hook into this feature will allow pop-up video playback in a small window that can be dragged around. It feels like what you can do on a computer, or on Samsung tablets. A movie, a live-streaming video, or even CNET's video reviews played just fine, and even floated over the home screen. Pinching adjusts the size, and you can easily tap to close.

Like a little trackpad. Sarah Tew/CNET

Keyboard-as-trackpad

The software keyboard that pops up when you type onscreen now has a killer extra function. if you swipe around with two fingers, it magically becomes a trackpad. A cursor appears in supported apps, letting you move around and edit far faster than you could normally accomplish. Yes, you can also just reach up and tap on words with the touchscreen instead, but going back and forth between doing that and typing always felt awkward. Now, it feels more organic, like using a regular computer...except it's limited to that screen-filling set of onscreen keys. For standalone physical Bluetooth keyboards, iOS 9 also allows more customized keyboard shortcut commands.

Another news app for the iPad. Sarah Tew/CNET

News

Apple's new newsreader app feels a lot like other apps out there like Flipboard. It's cleanly designed, but right now News doesn't work with all news feeds. You can favorite stories by tapping a heart to read later. (Unlike the other features listed above, Apple News is also available on the iPhone -- but the iPad's extra real estate makes it particularly compelling on the tablet.) News isn't needed, but on the iPad it does look pretty nice.

And a lot more

There are dozens of other new iOS 9 features , too: improved Siri, promises of better battery life and battery-saving modes, new Maps functions, a revamped Notes app that feels more like Evernote, and smarter searching in Spotlight. These new functions appear on iPhones and iPads alike. But for the iPad, iOS 9 might be the biggest update in quite a long time.

Just be careful: while iOS 9's public beta has been working remarkably smoothly for me so far, you should do a full backup of your phone or iPad before diving in. If you have an iPad Air 2, it's worth it.