​Time for the iPad to grow up

iOS 10 adds a few improvements to the iPad, but it's time for the software to take a bigger leap forward.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The thing I carry around with me almost every day in my bag is a 9.7-inch iPad Pro. I've had an iPad with me in some form, usually, for years. It's redundant, probably. But it's my security blanket. It's small. Versatile. I can type on it. It's a mini computer. I can get things done that I can't do on my phone.

It's hard to justify, though.

Apple's vision of the future of computing is the iPad. But its software doesn't live up to that promise. As a piece of hardware, it's fantastic. Very capable, impressively compact. But Apple's 2016 unveiling of its new operating systems hitting in the fall barely addressed the iPad at all. Yes, it'll get iOS 10. But it won't get a lot of new, unique iPad-optimized features.

Maybe some people won't be concerned. The new upcoming iOS 10 does add a lot of hooked-in functions that will, of course, work on the iPad. Maps, Messages, Apple Music, that swipe-up Control Panel, notifications...they'll all be improved. The iPad will work as a HomeKit smart home base station. It'll also get Mail and Safari split-screen functions.

Dare I say, I wanted more.

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iPad Pro and its accessories.

Josh Miller/CNET

Last year's iOS 9 took several steps that really made the iPad more useful. The iPad Pro's hardware improvements and accessories -- better processors, displays, a new connector port and a pretty slick (but tough to store) Pencil stylus -- were also great moves. And while the App Store's new pricing rules -- which allow subscriptions for a wider variety of apps beyond audio and video, and give developers a bigger chunk of the profits after the first 12 months -- are still surrounded by a lot of unanswered questions, they could also make the iPad a better home for a wider variety of niche professional-level apps.

But why does iOS on the iPad have to look like an iPhone? Why can't it be reinvented fully and become a new type of OS like TVOS and WatchOS? It's not like apps I use on my iPhone load seamlessly on the iPad without being redesigned for the differently sized, larger iPad screen. So, why not take further measures to explore how that bigger display can be used more efficiently?

Here are some ideas I'd like to see.

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A smart connector charge dock from Logitech. What else could be designed?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Allow a wider range of Smart Connector accessories

I don't understand what the limits of Apple's iPad Pro-only Smart Connector are, or what accessories it could support. Right now, it only has keyboards and charging docks. But could there be trackpads, or other accessibility-friendly inputs? I keep expecting Apple to discuss a program for Smart Connector accessory development, but it hasn't happened.

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Expand the home screen: Add a bigger dock, and pinnable widgets

Apple's allowing more widgets to expand off of Siri search on MacOS Sierra, and widgets can be added to the lock screen in iOS 10 more fluidly than ever. But what about putting those widgets on the home screen, too? I don't like the idea of pinned widgets on my phone's home screen, but it makes a lot of sense on an iPad. It could be a place for quick info, glanceable readouts, and it would save opening apps. There's plenty of room, even on an iPad Mini. Also, the dock on the iPad -- that little space on the bottom where six apps can be added -- should be allowed to hold more, like a Mac does. It should also have shortcuts to key functions, or recently used apps or docs. Why not even nest folders there?

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Split View on iOS 9 will stay the course, mostly, on iOS 10.

Nate Ralph/CNET

More split-view modes

Two apps can be seen at once, from only a couple of split options. What confuses me is why there can't be more than two, especially on the high-powered iPad Pro models. The 12.9-inch iPad can't take advantage of its extra pixel real estate.

A browser that feels more like a Mac's -- or a Chromebook's

When I want to get work done in a browser (or need to), the iPad doesn't always handle it well. Some sites load mobile versions. Other sites don't load everything I need. Chromebooks are fantastic for web work because they're basically offering the same experience as a laptop. Yes, I can set Safari to request the desktop version of a site on a case by case basis, but Apple should make it more easy to be the default. And even then -- sometimes, due to not being able to use a trackpad, some sites won't do what I need them to. Apps, like Google's far-from-good Docs and Drive on iPad, can't substitute properly.

A file system that can be properly organized

Thanks to a new iOS 10 feature, iCloud Drive will start mirroring Documents and Desktop files from Macs sharing the same Apple ID, which is a good start. But handling files and file organizing on an iPad is always weird. There's no central file directory, even though apps can share many files back and forth. Apple is developing an entirely new file system that will work cross-platform, but will I be able to find and organize those files clearly? Cloud storage solutions? I've got plenty. But who cares? No big deal, I want more.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Maybe next year?

I've said this many times already, but the iPad still doesn't get me fully to the point of replacing my computer. I'm starting to guess that's by design -- I guess Apple wants to sell me a $1,300 laptop to supplement my $600-ish tablet. But sooner or later, it needs to. Maybe -- despite Apple's repeated denials -- that day arrives when the iPad and Mac fuse into some sort of new gadget. Maybe the iPad gets some of these updates down the road.

I say this because the iPad Pro is so close to being something I could use all the time. And it just needs a little more push. Not from hardware. From its software.

Thanks to Mac-to-iOS services like Handoff (which opens links across devices), Airdrop (for sharing files locally) and the iOS 10-enabled Clipboard (for copying and pasting lots of stuff across devices), plus a suite of apps that are increasingly cross-platform, the iPad is getting better at being the tool I'd ideally want. But to take that next leap will need a bigger OS-level visionary jump. It doesn't look like that'll quite happen in iOS 10.