iPadOS 16 now allows device manufacturers to create drivers for iPad

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Apple this week announced iPadOS 16 with significant changes to how the iPad works, especially for the iPad M1s, which now feature true multitasking with Windows and support for external displays. In addition to these features, iPadOS 16 also allows device manufacturers for the first time to create drivers for iPad with the new “DriverKit” API.

DriverKit is a framework originally created for the Mac that allows device manufacturers to develop drivers to make their products fully compatible with macOS. The API was introduced in macOS Catalina to replace kernel extensions, as DriverKit is an application extension that runs in user space without access to all system privileges to ensure the security and integrity of the system.

This year, Apple is bringing DriverKit to the iPad with iPadOS 16, so device and accessory manufacturers can also create specific drivers to make their products compatible with the iPad.

For now, the DriverKit API in iPadOS 16 supports USB, PCI, and audio devices. Since this API is also available on the Mac, developers who have created Apple Silicon-ready macOS drivers can easily port them to the iPad. A driver can be distributed through the App Store as a standard app, but its capabilities extend to other apps.

For example, having DriverKit on iPadOS will allow users to connect Thunderbolt audio interfaces to iPad for the first time. It will also work for less complex devices, like a USB microphone.

When a user installs a new driver in iPadOS, it must be manually enabled in the Settings app. Drivers can be enabled or disabled by the user at any time, and Apple says each driver only works when the external device is connected to the iPad.

Availability of DriverKit

Unfortunately, according to Apple, DriverKit requires an iPad with an M1 chip. This means that even with iPadOS 16, these drivers will not work with older iPad models or even the current generation iPad mini, which is powered by the A15 chip.

Although the reasons are unclear, it may not be directly related to the chip, but rather to the fact that only the iPad Pro M1 supports Thunderbolt connection, while the iPad Air 5 has a port Faster USB 3.1 Gen 2 despite no Thunderbolt. Meanwhile, other USB-C iPad models are based on the 3.1 Gen 1 standard, while the base model iPad with Lightning connector is still based on the older USB 2.0 standard.

Still, this is great news for iPad users as they will now have access to a new range of accessories that were simply not compatible with iPadOS before.

iPadOS 16 will be available next month in public beta. Its official release is scheduled for this fall. Developers can now try out the iPadOS 16 beta by downloading it from the Apple Developer website.

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