iPadOS 18 adds machine-learning wizardry with handwriting, math features

CUPERTINO, Calif.—After going into detail about iOS 18, Apple took a few moments in its WWDC 2024 keynote to walk through some changes.

There are a few minor UI changes and new features across Apple’s first party apps. That includes a new floating tab bar. The bar expands into the side bar when you want to dig in, and you can customize the tab bar to include the specific things you want to interact with the most. Additionally, SharePlay allows easier screen sharing and remote control of another person’s iPad.

But the big news is that the Calculator app we’ve all used on the iPhone to the iPad, after years of the iPad having no first-party calculator app at all. The iPad Calculator app can do some things the iPhone version can’t do with the Apple Pencil; a feature called Math Notes can write out expressions like you would on a piece of paper, and the app will solve the expressions live as you scribble them—plus various other cool live-updating math features. (These new Math Notes features work in the Notes app, too.)

Apple didn’t use the word AI here, but this is surely driven by machine learning in some way. Doubly so for a new handwriting feature called Smart Script, which refines and improves your handwriting as you go, tweaking letters to make them more legible when you’re writing very quickly to take notes. It uses machine learning to analyze your handwriting, so these adjustments are meant to match your normal script. That means you can scribble as quickly and recklessly as you want during a conference or a day of classes, but ostensibly, it will be legible at the end of the day.

Not everyone’s a big Pencil user—for some of us, handwriting long ago took a back seat to typing—but Apple is aggressively selling these kinds of flashy features for those who want that experience.

The release date for iPadOS 18 hasn’t been announced yet, but it will likely arrive in September or October alongside iOS 18 and the new iPhone models that will probably be announced then.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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