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Apple’s iPadOS gets a major new update at WWDC but it’s missing one key feature

An iPad Pro showing the new Math Notes app in action

iPadOS 18 will tidy up your handwriting and finally gets a calculator app but there’s one area that still needs improvement

Apple announced a whole raft of new features for iPadOS 18 at its WWDC 2024 developer conference, and I’m excited to try out pretty much all of them. There are some powerful and intriguing features for iPad owners to play with when it eventually comes out of public beta in the autumn.

The iPad will finally get its very own native calculator app, with a feature called Math Notes, which uses AI to recognise handwritten equations and calculate the result for you – written in your own handwriting style, no less. You can even use Math Notes to calculate complex equations with variables and generate graphs from equations.

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Smart Script is another feature that looks exciting: it promises to use AI to tidy up your handwriting (it’s going to have its work cut out with my scrawl), to allow you to edit your handwriting as if it was typed text, and search through it, as well. Add that to the addition of the long-awaited ability to record audio directly in the Notes app and it looks like I’ll be using Notes more than ever.

An iPad showing the new Smart Script feature in action

I’m also intrigued to see just how much use I’ll get out of AI features like Image Playground and Image Wand. The latter lets you circle your rough sketches and will turn them into something more polished – it works a little like the new CoCreate feature in Microsoft Paint, except you’ll be able to use it directly within Notes and other apps, instead of having to switch to a different app and then cut and paste.

The AI Writing Tools will be of less use to me as a professional writer, but will undoubtedly help those less confident in their writing ability. Just like the AI features built into the recent Chromebook Plus update, these allow users – within core Apple apps and third-party apps, too – to rephrase text, summarise long segments of text for easier digestion and proofread it for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.

These are all very useful upgrades, no doubt, and they’re not the only ones. Apple has made a host of other, smaller changes to iPadOS. Unfortunately, there’s one place Apple hasn’t made changes and it’s where it has needed to make changes for years: the Files app and the file system in general.

Last year, I used an M2 Apple iPad for pretty much a whole year as my main travel laptop to file copy, edit photos and upload videos and loved using it for the most part – until it came to using it to manage files and particularly while interacting with the file system via third-party apps such as Google Drive. Why can’t I select multiple files for upload from within Google Drive still? Why doesn’t the Files dialogue remember my position when I go to upload?

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The iPad is such a powerful system, a workstation laptop in all but name, but until Apple improves something as fundamental as the Files app it’s going to keep putting me off using it as a mobile work device and driving customers back to the MacBook Air. That’s a real shame because it’s otherwise a stupendous piece of hardware, particularly with all these new AI upgrades.

If you’re already the proud owner of an iPad and want to try out the new features, they’re available, as usual, straight away for developers, while members of the public will be able to give them a whirl from July. The official version of iPadOS 18 will roll out to everyone else later in the year.

A front facing perspective of the Apple iPad Pro (M4, 2024) set up in landscape mode with the Apple Pencil and keyboard attached

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