What is iPadOS and How is it Different than iOS?

David Ruddock
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iPadOS is a version of the iOS operating system that runs on exclusively on Apple iPad tablets. iPadOS is compatible with iOS applications and shares much of its codebase with the larger family of iOS platforms, including tvOS, watchOS, as well as the original iOS for the Apple iPhone.

Like all other iOS platforms, iPadOS is closed source and designed only to run on Apple Silicon processors. This means iPadOS cannot be installed on any device that is not an iPad, and its interface and functions cannot be modified in ways Apple does not explicitly permit.

iPad Device Management

iPadOS vs iOS: What are the differences?

The simplest way to think of the difference between iOS and iPadOS is two versions of the same OS, each designed for different hardware: one for smartphones, one for tablets. Most of the differences in features between the two relate to multitasking and extensibility. iOS for the iPhone is not designed to work with external displays or to run multiple apps at the same time, while iPadOS is.

Specifically, iOS for iPhones does not support a true multitasking mode for apps — meaning that applications on the iPhone cannot display in splitscreen mode or use features like the iPadOS Stage Manager to run multiple applications at the same time.

Additionally, while the iPhone does support external mouse or trackpad input for cursor-based navigation via AssistiveTouch, this feature is not enabled natively, and Apple does not build keyboard or mouse accessories for the iPhone (unlike the iPad, which works with Apple's first-party Magic Keyboard case).

iOS for the iPhone also does not support Sidecar external display mode, native desktop web browsing, the Apple Pencil stylus, or the macOS-style dock interface of the iPad.

iPadOS has some limitations when compared to iOS for the iPhone. The most significant is that iPadOS does not work with the Apple Watch smartwatch, which requires an iPhone both for initial setup and basic functionality. Other differences can be attributed to hardware on the end device or likely use case; for example, the latest iPhone supports car crash detection, while the iPad does not (given a user is very unlikely to use an iPad to contact emergency responders after a car crash).

Because the iPad is not designed as a true standalone telephony device, its support for phone calls and iMessage (or SMS) messaging requires a connected iPhone to function (i.e., An iPad cannot be configured to receive calls as if it were a standalone cellular phone).

Application support is slightly different between the two platforms, as well. iPadOS can run most apps natively designed for iOS on the iPhone in a compatibility mode, though these apps may not always display or function correctly if they aren't properly optimized. However, the iPhone cannot run iPadOS apps at all. Developers must use the iOS SDK when building applications for the iPhone, and the iPadOS SDK when developing for the iPad, because Apple has substantially different interface requirements to achieve compatibility for each platform.

iPadOS vs iOS feature comparison chart

FeatureiOS (iPhone)iPadOS (iPad)
App splitscreeningNY
External display outputNY
Sidecar (external display input)NY
Run iPadOS appsNY
Run iOS (iPhone) appsYY
Stage Manager (freeform desktop mode)NY
Apple Watch supportYN
TelephonyYY (w/ iPhone)
iMessage / SMSYY (w/ iPhone)
Homescreen dock UINY
Picture-in-picture (PiP) videoYY
Desktop web browserNY
4G / 5G cellular dataYY
VoIP / videoconferencingYY
Biometric securityYY
Ultra wideband (UWB)YY
Single app mode (kiosk mode)YY
MDM support (Managed Profile)YY
Active stylus support (i.e. Apple Pencil)NY

iPadOS history

For most of its life, the operating system used by the iPad was called "iOS" or "iOS for iPad." Despite sharing a name with the OS running on the iPhone, the two were never identical: differences in feature set and interfaces were always present.

Over time, those differences grew. As a result, in 2019, Apple rebranded the iPad's operating system to "iPadOS" to distinguish it from the OS running on its smartphones.

  • 2010: The first iPad was released running a modified version of iPhone OS 3.2, and was updated to iOS 4 later in the year. Distinguishing features included tablet-optimized versions of some iOS apps and iPad-exclusive releases of Apple's iWork productivity suite for the iPad.
  • 2011: iOS 5 added two distinguishing features for iPad: multitasking gestures and a new split keyboard interface.
  • 2012-2013: iOS 6 and iOS 7 changes were largely shared across the iPhone and iPad.
  • 2014: iOS 8 introduced voice call and SMS support for the iPad as part of its Continuity feature for iOS and Mac, allowing users to make phone calls and answer SMS texts from their iPad, Mac, or iPhone.
  • 2015: iOS 9 added multitasking support to iPad with features like Slide Over, Split Screen, and Picture in Picture (PiP). Certain keyboard optimizations like a two finger gesture for selecting text and a shortcut bar were included, too. None of these features were available on iOS for the iPhone (some were added to later versions), and this release marked the beginning of a greater divergence of the two platforms.
  • 2016: iOS 10 added a new split-screen browsing experience exclusively for the Safari web browser on iPad.
  • 2017: iOS 11 was one of the biggest updates in the iPad's history, and added several major features. The "dock" interface from Apple's MacBook laptops was ported to the iPad for the first time. The ability to "drag and drop" files and photos between splitscreened apps (now dynamically resizable) brought the iPad closer to a desktop computing experience. iOS for the iPad and iOS for the iPhone now offered distinctly different "home screen" interface experiences, and the iPad benefitted from much more robust multitasking support.
  • 2018: iOS 12 redesigned the iPad status bar and added a separate interface for the Control Center, both more similar to the experience on iOS for the iPhone.
  • 2019: iOS for the iPad was rebranded as iPadOS, with iPadOS 13 launching as the first version alongside iOS 13. The OS's distinctness from that running on the iPhone continued to grow, though the two were engineered on the same "base" iOS platform. Sidecar allowed the iPad to be used as an external touchscreen monitor for macOS (MacBook, Mac Mini, Mac Pro) computers. Initial support for "point and click" mouse and trackpad devices was added, enabling a much more laptop-style computing experience. Apple also developed a version of the Safari web browser for iPad based on the Safari browser for macOS, adding support for native desktop web page rendering.
  • 2020: iPadOS 14, the second release of iPadOS, added a host of interface changes (widgets, compact heads up notifications) and feature improvements (Siri and search enhancements), though most were shared across the iPhone and iPad.
  • 2021: iPadOS 15 added support for some previously iPhone-only features like Low Power Mode, the App Library, and home screen widgets. New gestures for multitasking on the iPad were introduced, though other new iPad-exclusive features were limited in this release.
  • 2022: iPadOS 16 launched a major new multitasking feature called Stage Manager, which enables iPads that use Apple’s M-series silicon (M1 or M2 processors) to run up to four applications in a desktop-style UI as dynamically resizable windows with quick access to app switching. The feature works with external monitors, greatly increasing the iPad's desktop computing capabilities — especially when combined with a mouse or keyboard.

iPadOS security features

iPadOS supports a host of modern security features, some of which are built for consumers but may also apply to enterprises and organizations.

  • Biometric authentication
  • Secure element storage for passwords, payments, and credentials
  • VPN, IPv6, custom DNS, HTTP proxy, manual IP
  • 3rd party tracking blocking
  • IP address obfuscation (Private Relay)
  • Encrypted backups
  • Encrypted cloud storage
  • Secure lockdown mode
  • Per-app permission settings
  • Advanced wireless security (e.g. WPA-3, 802.1X)
  • Remotely lock, locate, or erase a lost or stolen device
  • Kiosk mode (i.e., single app lock, supervised mode)

iPadOS for business and enterprise

The suitability of iPadOS for business and enterprise depends on your intended use.

iPadOS is well suited as a laptop replacement, a check-in kiosk, workplace information display, or another dedicated use like a Point of Sale (POS) system. As of this writing, the iPad starts at $329 and comes with a large 10.2 inch touchscreen (with other options ranging from 8.3 inches up to 12.9 inches). If an external display or USB accessory is needed, iPadOS supports them natively* (iOS on the iPhone does not support external displays).

*The $329 base model iPad requires an adapter for external displays and most accessories.

The large touchscreen display, true multitasking features, and support for external display mode make the iPad and iPadOS applicable in many use cases in the enterprise (so long as that use case doesn't require a handset form factor).

Both iPhones and iPads can be managed using an MDM (Mobile Device Management) tool with features like single app mode (kiosk mode) to restrict users to select apps and features.

Can iPadOS run desktop apps or MacOS apps?

iPadOS only supports apps built for the iOS platform and cannot run macOS applications. Android, Linux, and Windows apps also cannot run on iPadOS.

Apple does offer developers a way to convert their macOS apps to iPadOS apps. Mac Catalyst is a suite of tools meant to simplify this process. In practice, this is much more complex than it sounds. Apps built for macOS may rely on libraries, APIs, and frameworks that are not available on iOS. Without these technical dependencies in place, apps would break or simply not run at all. Some app developers may not even have a viable path to recreating their app's functionality on iPadOS at all (let alone a business case).

Some macOS apps have been ported to iPadOS, but these are overwhelmingly newer apps built for consumers, without years of legacy features and code frequently found in business and enterprise applications.

iPadOS versus Windows for enterprise and business

iPadOS is a radically different operating system environment than Microsoft's Windows OS. Windows supports a huge library of applications designed for desktop, business, and enterprise computing environments. Windows is commonly used in organizations by knowledge workers as a generic computing platform, but also where legacy application or network support is required. If your devices are connecting to a legacy mainframe or database, a networked service hosted by an on-premise server, or have other unique security and connectivity compliance requirements, Windows may be the only practical solution because of its deep configurability and networking features.

iPadOS is far simpler to configure and deploy for use cases like basic data entry, kiosks, point of sale, information displays, medical devices, or digital signage. This is because iPadOS was designed from the outset to offer a highly restricted computing environment for the end user, with no access to low-level operating system functions or commands. This makes the operating system much easier to effectively "lock down" using a Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool that ensures the iPad stays in a single mode of operation at all times.

While Windows can be and is used in this "single mode" way, too, the OS is complex to configure, and system behavior across different hardware vendors may be inconsistent. Additionally, Windows is volume licensed software, meaning you are paying for the entire legacy Windows platform even if you only require a very specific subset of functionality for your use case. iPadOS has no licensing fee, and the cost of the platform is baked into the hardware. Windows hardware is also generally more expensive.

Windows may offer a longer guaranteed support lifetime than iPadOS, but both platforms have long updated lifecycles. iPad devices are supported by Apple for at least 5 years with core OS updates, and support for security updates can extend far longer than that. For example, the 1st Generation iPad Air, released in 2013, continues to receive critical security updates in 2023 — 10 years later!

Next-Gen MDM Solutions

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David Ruddock
David Ruddock

David's tech experience runs deep. His tech agnostic approach and general love for technology fueled the 14 years he spent as a technology journalist, where David worked with major brands like Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Verizon, and Amazon, reviewed hundreds of products, and broke dozens of exclusive stories. Now he lends that same passion and expertise to Esper's marketing team.

David Ruddock
Learn about Esper mobile device management software for Android and iOS
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