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The iPad’s Odd New Feature

by Dewi Safitri


I’ve been using iPad OS 16 on the new iPad Pro for a little while, and one of the biggest new features on it is called Stage Manager and I have a theory about it. Now, a lot of iPad power users like myself have been excited for this feature to drop because we’ve been waiting for a sort of Mac-like, real multi-tasking experience on the iPad. So Stage Manager comes along and it is technically a multi-tasking UI, but the more I use it, the more I can sort of crystallizing this theory in my head, which is that Apple doesn’t seem to want the iPad to do anything the same way that Mac does it. Now, this goes back a long way. When the iPad first came out, it was more or less a gigantic iPhone, but it’s slowly gotten more and more powerful in front of our eyes.

Until this point, we have a $1,000 iPad Pro with a 13-inch mini LED display and a whole M1 chip inside. The same chip that’s in some of the most popular computers that Apple makes. But the iPad software has stayed remarkably consistent, which is a nice way of saying it. It hasn’t advanced quite at the same rate as this hardware. So a lot of people have big iPad dreams of wanting this to be their only computer and have it be just as capable as any other computer, but it hasn’t been and that’s been the biggest knock on the iPad for a while. Now sure, we’ve gotten some stuff, we have had widgets on the home screen since iPad OS 15. Split-screen apps, slide-over apps, and all this stuff.

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But again, you’ll notice that they specifically don’t do anything here the same way they would on a Mac. They always wanna find a new iPad way of doing it. Like when the iPad first got a trackpad and mouse support, that was a big deal, we were waiting for that. But instead of a normal mouse, we got this unique circle pointer thing that floats between possible touch targets, very much the iPad way. Remember when I asked Craig Federighi why there wasn’t a dedicated weather app and calculator app on the iPad? This was his answer. The iPad still does not have default weather and calculator app, and they wanna know why.

There are some things that we have not done because to do it, we would wanna do something distinctly great in that space. And I think it’s easy to create a calculator app. But creating one that feels like, wow, this is the greatest iPad calculator app, that it felt like I think we wanna do it when we can do it well. And we honestly just haven’t gotten around to doing it great. So that day may come but… And whether it would be, be easy enough to scale up our additional, our existing weather app, but we feel like, what would a great weather app for iPad be like? Let’s do that before we do it. 

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I suppose that makes perfect sense. But listening back to that two years later, it sounds even more like, “We haven’t gotten around to doing it the iPad way yet.” Even the headline on Apple’s website for iPad OS 16, “Incredibly capable. Unmistakably iPad.” So when it comes to multitasking, this is like the last big hurdle on the iPad’s way to finally feel like it’s a real computer. We all know what we expect multitasking to look like on a normal computer, like a Mac. But following my theory and I can’t prove it, but this is just my theory Apple doesn’t ever want the iPad’s multitasking to look or feel or work like it does on a Mac. They’ve get to find an iPad way of doing this

Now to throw a wrench in my theory, this is also coming to the Mac in the latest version, but the latest feature here is called Stage Manager, and it’s not bad. It’s just an inherently new different way of doing multitasking on a touch screen or a monitor like this, and it’s just another thing you’re gonna have to learn to get the most out of this thing. So basically, what it looks like is, you enable it in the Settings, then toggle it on in Control Center. Once you do, you can open up an app to bring it on stage. And then off to the left here, you have your recent apps that are off stage. So you’re on stage app, it’s a Window! It isn’t quite a full screen. And so you can drag the corner and move it around and you can see that there’s a bunch of slightly different predetermined window sizes.

It’s not perfectly fluid. It’s just a bunch of sizes that Apple picked. And then you can bring other apps from off-stage to be on stage at the same time. So now this is officially the first time you can have more than one windowed app open at the same time on the iPad. And again, you can mess with the sizes, you can group apps, and then you can bring them on or off stage at will. So it is still definitely very much not the same thing as multiple windows open on a computer with the little buttons in the corner, and then fully fluid window sizes and all the stuff, but it is running simultaneous things at once, and it is multitasking, and it is the iPad way.

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You can have up to four apps on a stage at once, which can look kind of ridiculous and probably even more so on a smaller iPad. But then you can move a whole pile of apps off stage by switching to something else and then bring all of them back on at once. It’s just technically a lot happening simultaneously. And if you connect the iPad to an external display, the iPad doesn’t just mirror anymore but it treats it like a second display to extend onto and lets you have up to four more piles to the side on Stage Manager.

So you can multitask to your heart’s content on a large display where it doesn’t feel as crowded and you can have a ton of processes happening at once. It’s impressive, but it’s not perfect. There are already some pretty well-documented downsides. The first one is not very widely available, literally only M1 iPads will support this. Resource intensive that it uses memory swaps, so that are not very many iPads right now. But more importantly, I still think this is a little bit complicated and not the most intuitive thing in the world. Now, this isn’t the end of the world for an iPad power user who’s just like, “Yeah, bring on the new UI and stuff. 

I’ll learn it, no problem.” But as you know, if you open an app that’s already in another group, it will open that whole group. So you have to manually drag the app out into another group if you wanna work in a different set of apps. If you can’t make it open automatically so you have to drag them to cover the whole display or hit the dots at the top, and hit zoom every time to bring the full screen. Or what about the fact that there are iPhone-sized apps still??? Like whatever the hell Instagram is still doing, they don’t resize at all, and they seem to mess with the whole multitasking thing since you can’t seem to choose where it goes either. And also the fact that this feels like about the fifth different way to multitask on an iPad that’s buried behind some slightly obscure gestures and is off by default. 

There are still three dots at the top of every window if Stage Manager isn’t on. That’s how you still get into split-screen apps and have a set number of predetermined sizes. And that’s also how you get into slide-over apps! It’s the tall skinny apps that you get to, by sliding over from the side and having an entire multitasking carousel of their own. You also can’t drag windows straight from an iPad to another display, so you need to click the three dots, move to display, and then do that same thing again. The iPad does not work with a secondary display while its screen is off. So like a laptop, a computer might have a clamshell mode where you close it, but it’s still plugged into a monitor you can use. With the iPad, if this screen is off, so is everything it’s connected to. Plus don’t forget about the keyboard shortcuts. If you have the Magic Keyboard that goes along with the iPad. A lot of them are the same as they are on a Mac, but some are slightly different. It’s a lot!!! 

So I feel like you probably get what I’m saying. The state of the iPad is fascinating. Apple’s given us an amazing piece of hardware and it’s very powerful! Plus, they’ve added a bunch of features to try to take advantage of it. Now in their effort to do it the iPad way, every single time, they’re walking a tightrope between two sides. One side is amazing, intuitive, and powerful, while the other side is a little too complicated, a little bit unintuitive, and hard to remember. They’re just right down the middle. For people who use an iPad, how do you use your iPad? What do you do specifically on the iPad? Are you a one full-screen app at a time person? You just keep it propped up in a folio, touchscreen all the time? Let me know in the comments section below how you use the iPad. And until the next one, I will continue to be confused about what is a computer question. Thanks for watching. Catch you guys on the next one. Peace. 

Source: The iPad’s Odd New Feature



Dewi Safitri

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