For the first time, iPadOS 16 will allow device makers to create drivers for the iPad thanks to the new “DriverKit” API. As Apple has announced the latest iPadOS 16 which features some major changes to the device, especially the M1 series iPads, the new DriverKit will allow developers to create their own drivers.
DriverKit API Brings Drivers to iPadOS 16
Specifically, DriverKit is a framework originally created for Mac that allows device makers to develop drivers that will enable their products to be fully capable with macOS. The API was first introduced in macOS Catalina as a means to replace kernel extensions, with DriveKit being an app extension that runs in a user space. However, it typically runs without access to all system privileges. This helps ensure system security and integrity.
Now, Apple is bringing DriverKit to the iPad with iPadOS 16 later this year. Device and accessory makers will now be able to create specific drivers in order to make their products iPad compatible.
Currently, the DriverKit API featured in iPadOS 15 supports USB, PCI and audio devices. With the API also being available on Mac, those who have developed Apple Sillicon-ready macOS drivers are able to easily port them to the iPad. Drivers may also find distribution through the App Store. Drivers will appear as regular apps, but will feature capabilities that extend to other apps.
For example, users will be able to connect Thunderbolt audio interfaces, such as a Hilo 2×6 interface from Lynx, directly to the iPad for the first time. Less complex devices should also work just as well, like a USB microphone.
Users that install a new driver in iPadOS must manually enable them in the Settings app. Users may toggle a driver on or off at any time. Apple also stated that each driver only works while the external device has a connection to the iPad.
The Only Downside
The downside is that according to Apple, an M1-equipped iPad is required for DriverKit. So users that make the upgrade to iPadOS 16 will not have functioning drivers unless their device is powered by the M1.
Though Apple did not state their reasoning, this may be unrelated to the chips within iPads, and more to do with the fact that only the M1 iPad Pro supports Thunderbolt connection. On the hand, the iPad Air 5 has a faster USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, though it lacks Thunderbolt. To conflate matters, other USB-C iPad models find the 3.1 Gen 1 standard. The base model iPad with Lightning connector still relies on the old USB 2.0 standard.
In the end, this is great news for iPad users. The range of accessories now available for the iPad is now rather extensive. This news should be especially exciting for the music world. For iPads can be even more portable than a laptop, while now providing support for similar accessories.
Developers can now try the iPadOS 16 beta through the Apple Developer website. iPadOS 16 will be available as a public beta next month. The official release will most likely land in the fall.