How iOS 11 makes the iPad (mostly) better

iOS 11 delivers more software changes to the iPad than anything in the past two years. Here's what you can expect when it hits later this year.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read
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Watch this: iOS 11 transforms the iPad

The iPad has slowly been growing up, both through seriously fast hardware and more versatile software. On the surface, iOS 11 promises some features that sound almost Mac-like. I've been holding out hope that these will transform the iPad into the touchscreen MacBook replacement I've long been seeking.

After using iOS 11's public beta, which arrives today, my initial feeling is that these are needed improvements, but gradual ones. They're not world-changing, exactly, but they're better. And Pencil , Apple 's already-great stylus, becomes a lot more useful.

But they feel mostly like a finishing out of the features that iOS 9 added two years ago: improved split-screen, better multitasking. And, maybe, a slightly better workflow. But it's taking some getting used to. Read my iOS 11 beta on iPhone impressions (almost all of those work on iPad, too), and read this for the iPad-specific details.

iOS 11's best features for iPhone and iPad

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And remember: Do not install the iOS 11 Public Beta on your main device. The official version of iOS 11 comes out in the fall. This is a beta, a work in progress, and it definitely has bugs. Also, it causes weird things to happen sometimes on apps that still haven't been updated to support it. It also may affect battery life while Apple works to optimize it. Use a second device if you're curious, and back everything up. I tested on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro, fully hooked into my own iCloud account.

The best parts:

A real dock.

Instead of being stuck with six icons on the bottom, a new dock adds anywhere from 13 (on the 10.5-inch) to 15 (on the 12.9-inch) apps, plus three extras that change based on Siri recommendations and recently-used apps. Apps can be launched fast, and dragged on and off as needed. However, to pull apps into Split View mode (which not every app supports), the other app needs to be in the dock... making for some odd app-juggling at times.


Having more apps at the bottom is a huge help.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Split-screen apps evolve a bit.

Split-screen (Split View) apps now can be launched with the dock, and kept in split view pairings in a new multi-window Spaces launcher which also shows other open apps. A third app can even be dropped on top of the other two (iPad Pro only), in an extra floating window that's an evolved version of iOS 9's Slide Over. Add picture-in-picture for viewing a movie, and that's a crazy four-apps-at-once. But, sadly, you're still limited to two main side-by-side apps at once. I'd prefer being able to split apps into four panes, if needed.


Two apps, and an app on top. Triple app!

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Super-powered Pencil.

Pencil jumps right into Notes from the lock screen with a single tap. It creates a new note file for quick jotting, a great shortcut for sudden ideas or doodling. To get to other notes, the iPad still needs unlocking. Another clever addition: Attachments can be instantly marked up by using Pencil, while a regular finger just scrolls through the document. Basically, Apple is ensuring that you're getting a Pencil when you buy an iPad Pro.

Add markups to any screenshot, or make Safari PDFs.

Just about anything can be scribbled on in iOS 11, making quick markups with Pencil easier. (Protected movies and videos, however, are blacked out.) The fast-markup modes are handy and great for quick scrapbooks of ideas. iOS 11 doesn't support handwriting conversion into editable text, alas, but handwriting in Notes can be recognized and searched for across iOS 11. Even my messy scribble.


Marking up a Safari web page saved as a PDF, just like that.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Interesting to try:

A Files app for central file organization.

Files acts more like an evolution of the iCloud Drive app, which already stores and organizes files across the cloud, iOS and Macs. Files adds local storage, and also recognizes other cloud accounts like Google Drive and Dropbox. In the beta, those third-party features aren't hooked in, so it's hard to tell how they work. Local files seem to require app-specific folders, too. So far, it's not as flexible as a normal Mac/PC file system... but it's a place to put and potentially organize things like email attachments and downloads.


Dragging some files over: it takes a bit of practice.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Drag and drop.

In theory, things can be dragged from app to app. In practice, not everything works. I've had success with photos in my library, and some links in Safari. It's hard to make multi-finger drag-and-drop work for multiple files without some practice. And, since copy and paste already do a lot of this, it's not always needed.

Other things to check out:

Everything that iOS 11 brings to the iPhone also comes to the iPad. That includes a boatload of (mostly) nice improvements that really ramp up the usability of Apple devices:

  • The new Control Center: adds lots of shortcuts (swipe up to get to it)
  • Scanning directly into Notes: useful for building up documents (or receipts)
  • The on-screen keyboard's swipe-for-numbers: to get punctuation or numbers, just swipe down on a key.
  • Siri is different: new voice, and in-beta translations
  • Editable Live Photos: can pull out different shots to share (and add effects)
  • Screen recording: offers quick screen capture tools with voiceover
  • The App Store is redesigned: you've been warned (I'm very iffy on it)

What you don't get yet:

Augmented reality.

Apple's amazing ARKit doesn't have any apps or demos to show off in this beta, so you'll have to wait for software developers to show their stuff in the fall... or watch developer experiments online.

Apple Pay in iMessages.

In-message person-to-person Apple Pay promises to challenge Venmo, Paypal and other peer-to-peer payment solutions. But it's not launching until the fall.