12 Things You Didn't Know the iPad Could Do

The virtual trackpad, voice dictation, and more

Apple pumps new features into the iPad every year with a major new release of iOS, which is the operating system that runs the iPad, iPhone, and Apple TV. They are constantly pushing the boundaries of what a mobile operating system can do by adding rich features like extensibility and continuity. And if you have never heard of either of those features, join the crowd. The downside of adding a lot of new features each year -- especially when they have obscure names like "extensibility" — is that most people will never hear of them. Which means many people will never use them.

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The Virtual Touchpad

Woman downloading software on iPad
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If you have ever tried to select text by tapping your finger on a word and then manipulating the selection box, you know it can be harder than it sounds. Simply positioning the cursor using your finger can sometimes be difficult. 

That's where the virtual touchpad comes into play. Anytime the on-screen keyboard is displayed, you can activate the virtual touchpad by pressing two fingers down on the keyboard. The keys will disappear and the keys will act like a touchpad, allowing you to move the cursor around the screen or select text quickly and more accurately.

If you do a lot of writing on the iPad, this feature can be a real timesaver once you get used to it. Copying and pasting are a lot easier once you can easily select a block of text.  

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Quickly Switch Between Apps

Multitasking on an iPad

A lot is made about the iPad's slide-over and split-screen multitasking abilities, but unless you have an iPad Air or newer, you will be unable to use these features. And do you even really need them?  

The iPad has two neat features that combine to create the semblance of multitasking.  The first is fast app switching. When you close an app, the iPad doesn't actually close it. Instead, it keeps the app in memory in case you need to open it again. This lets you quickly jump between multiple apps without waiting for load times.  

The iPad also supports something called "multitasking gestures." These are a series of gestures that help you jump between apps quickly and efficiently. The main gesture is the four-finger swipe. You place four fingers on the iPad's display and move them from left-to-right or right-to-left to switch between your most recently used apps.

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Voice Dictation

Voice dictation feature on iPad

Not great at typing on the on-screen keyboard? No problem. There are a number of ways to get around this problem, including hooking up an external keyboard.  But you don't need to buy an accessory just to type up a letter. The iPad is also great for voice dictation. 

You can dictate to the iPad any time the on-screen keyboard is displayed on the screen. Yes, this includes typing in a text message.  Just tap the key with the microphone on the left side of the space bar and start speaking.   

You can also use Siri to dictate text messages with the "Send Text Message to [person's name]" command. And if you want to dictate a note for yourself, you can ask her to "Make a note" and she'll let you dictate a note and save it in the Notes app. These are just a few of many ways Siri can help boost your productivity, so if you haven't gotten to know Siri, it's worth your while to give her a chance.  

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Launch Apps With Siri

Man holding iPad air
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Speaking of Siri, did you know she can find and launch apps for you? While Apple lauds her ability to place phone calls, find movie times and make restaurant reservations, perhaps her most useful function is to simply launch any app you want by saying "Open [app name]".  

This beats hunting down the app from several screens filled with icons. If you don't like the idea of talking to your iPad, you can also launch apps using Spotlight Search, which is also often quicker than looking for the icon. 

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The Magic Wand That Makes Your Photos Pop With Color

Photo app editor on iPad

Have you ever wondered how photographers take such great photos? It isn't all in the camera or the photographer's eye. It's also in the editing.

The cool thing is that you don't need to know a lot about how to edit photos to make your photos look better. Apple's done the heavy lifting by creating a magic wand we can wave over the photo to magically make the lighting and colors pop right out of the image.

OK. It's not magic. But it's close. Simply go into the Photos app, choose the photo you want to edit, tap the Edit link at the top of the screen and then tap the magic wand button, which is located either at the bottom of the screen or to the side depending on how you are holding the iPad.

You'll be amazed at how good a job the button can do. If you like the new look, tap the Done button at the top to save the changes.

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Lock the iPad's Orientation Through the Control Panel

Overview of iPad controls

Many people don't know about the iPad's Control Panel, which makes it a good candidate for this list. You can use the control panel to control your music, turn Bluetooth on or off, activate AirPlay so you can send your iPad's screen to your Apple TV, adjust the brightness and many other basic functions.

One very handy use is to lock the orientation. If you've ever tried using the iPad while laying on your side, you know how irritating it can be for a simple shift to send the iPad into a different orientation. Early iPads had a side switch for locking the orientation. If you have a newer iPad, you can lock it by engaging the control panel, which is done by placing your finger on the very bottom edge of the iPad's screen and moving it up toward the top. When the Control Panel appears, the button with an arrow circling a lock. This will keep the iPad from changing its orientation.  

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Share Photos (and Almost Anything Else) With AirDrop

Using AirDrop on iPad

AirDrop is a great feature added in a recent update that can really help out when you want to share a photo, a contact or just about anything. AirDrop wirelessly transfers documents and photos between Apple devices, so you can AirDrop to an iPad, iPhone or Mac.   

Using AirDrop is as simple as using the Share button. This button is usually a box with an arrow pointing out the top and it opens a menu for sharing. In the menu, there are buttons for sharing via Messages, Facebook, Email and other options. At the top of the menu is the AirDrop section. By default, you will see a button the device of anyone nearby who is in your contacts. Simply tap their button and whatever you are trying to share will pop up on their device after they confirm that they want to receive it.  

This is much easier than passing photos around using text messages.

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Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garage Band, and iMovie May Be Free

Editing video on iPad

If you bought your iPad within the past few years, you may be entitled to download these great Apple apps for free. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote make up Apple's iWork suite and provide word processing, a spreadsheet, and presentation software.

Apple also gives away its iLife suite, which includes Garage Band and iMovie. Garage Band is a music studio that can both create music via virtual instruments or record the music you are playing with your instrument. And iMovie provides some solid video editing capabilities. 

If you recently bought an iPad with 32 GB, 64 GB or more of storage, you may already have these apps installed. For recent iPads with less storage, they are a free download away.

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Scan Documents

Scanning documents with iPad
Readdle Inc.

Most of these hidden gems use features or apps that come with the iPad, but it is worth noting a few cool things you can do by only spending a few bucks on an app. And chief among them is scanning documents.   

It is amazing how easy it is to scan a document with the iPad. Apps like Scanner Pro do all of the heavy lifting for you by framing the document and trimming out parts of the picture that aren't part of the document. It will even save the document to Dropbox for you.   

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Word Correct Without Auto Correct

Man working in coffee shop using iPad


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AutoCorrect has spawned many jokes and memes on the Internet because of how much it can change what you are trying to say if you aren't paying attention to the so-called corrections. The most annoying part of Auto Correct is how you must remember to tap the word you just typed when it doesn't recognize the name of your daughter as being a word or doesn't know computer lingo or medical jargon. 

But here's something most people don't know: You can still get Auto Correct's good points even after you turn it off. Once turned off, the iPad will underline words it doesn't recognize. If you tap the underlined word, you get a box with the suggested replacements, which basically puts you in charge of the autocorrect. ​

This is great if you constantly find AutoCorrect annoying but you want the ability to easily correct your misspelled words. You can turn AutoCorrect off by launching the iPad's settings, choosing General from the left-side menu, choosing Keyboard Settings and then tap the AutoCorrect slider to turn it off.

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Pick Up Where You Left Off on Your iPhone

Close up businessman using digital tablet in classroom
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Have you ever started typing an email on your iPhone, and after realizing the email will turn out to be much longer than you expected, wishing you had started it on an iPad? No problem. If you have an email open on your iPhone, you can pick up your iPad and locate the mail icon in the bottom-left corner of the lock screen. Swipe up starting with the mail button and you will be inside the same mail message.  

This works when you are on the same Wi-Fi network and both the iPhone and the iPad use the same Apple ID. If you have different Apple IDs for everyone in the family, you won't be able to do this with every device.  

It's called continuity. And this trick works with more than just Email.  You can use the same trick to open the same document in Notes or open the same spreadsheet in Pages among other tasks or apps that support this feature.  

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Install a Custom Keyboard

Using swype keyboard on iPad

Don't like the on-screen keyboard? Install a new one! Extensibility is a feature that allows you to run widgets on the iPad, including replacing the default keyboard with one like Swype, which lets you draw words instead of tapping them.  

You can enable a third-party keyboard by going to the iPad's settings, choosing General from the left-side menu, choosing Keyboard to bring up the keyboard settings, tapping Keyboards and then Add New Keyboard... Just make sure you download a new keyboard first!  

To activate your new keyboard, tap the keyboard key that looks like a globe.  

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