Apple opens iPadOS to third-party device drivers

Manufacturers are able to write iPadOS drivers for their hardware for the first time. This enables, for example, the connection of Thunderbolt audio interfaces.

 Apple opens iPadOS for third-party device drivers

More peripherals for iPads: Apple opens iPadOS in version 16 for third-party drivers. Manufacturers are thus able to make their devices, which were previously only designed for interaction with desktop operating systems, compatible with the tablet. According to Apple, this should enable professionals to carry out their work with external hardware on the move on the iPad.

A classic example is the use of audio hardware: the extended driver support will make it possible for the first time to use Thunderbolt audio interfaces on the iPad, as an Apple developer emphasized at the WWDC 2022 conference. Apple is bringing the DriverKit framework, which is already part of macOS, to iPadOS for this purpose. According to the company, drivers developed for the Mac should also work on the iPad without any adaptation.

Drivers for USB, PCI, audio

The framework specifies the basic behavior of the device drivers, which do not run in kernel space but in user space and should not endanger the reliability and security of the operating system. Apple has also been deprecating kernel extensions in macOS for years, where they are also gradually being replaced by various DriverKit frameworks.

In iPadOS 16, Apple drivers for the USB, PCI and audio areas (respectively USBDriverKit, PCIDriverKit and AudioDriverKit). Other DriveKit frameworks like HIDDriverKit for input devices and NetworkingDriverKit are missing. The drivers are always provided as part of apps via the App Store. Third-party developers can integrate manufacturers’ drivers into their apps using the appropriate SDKs.

Only for new iPads with an M1 chip or higher

On the iPad, support is limited to devices with an M1 chip , which is currently only the iPad Pro 2021 and the iPad Air 5. The M1 iPads get many advanced features with iPadOS 16, including window management. Apple also lists DriverKit as compatible with iOS 16, but it remains unclear whether the iPhone also supports the drivers.

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