iPadOS 16’s New Multitasking Redesign Rivals the Mac

Yes, that’s right—windows on the iPad

  • iPadOS 16 brings multiple windows and external screen support to the iPad.
  • With a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, your iPad becomes a "regular" computer.
  • The Stage Manager feature may be annoying for some Mac users but amazing for iPad-first folks.
An iPad and an external display, keyboard, and mouse showing iPadOS16 extended to the display.

Apple

With iPadOS 16, the iPad's software finally lives up to the promise of its incredible hardware.

iPadOS 16 and iOS 16, coming this fall, add a slew of great new features and tweaks. It's a laundry list of the fixes and improvements that nerds have dreamed about for years. But the biggest of all these changes is that the iPad finally gets the Weather app. Kidding—although only a little. No, the big news here is Stage Manager and what Apple calls "Full External Display Support." This lets you put your apps in resizable windows on the iPad's screen, then hook it up to an external display and use it like a Mac. 

"With iPadOS 16, we finally have a software narrative to justify the existence of the M1 iPad Pro," writes iPad superuser Federico Viticci on his Mac Stories blog.

Windows 2022

The iPad is an incredible machine. It runs on the same M1 chip as several Macs and can do pretty much anything you want it to. But even for hardcore, long-time iPad "power users," it can sometimes be frustrating to get simple things done. For instance, you can drag and drop images, text, and files between apps, but the problem is actually switching between those apps to do it. Apple has tried several methods to get around this limitation but has—until now—ignored the best one, one that Apple already invented in 1984 with the Mac. App windows.

Stage Manager lets you use up to four windows on the screen at once, and you can resize them and move them around (this feature is only available on M1-based iPad Pros). It's not a totally freeform environment like the Mac. Instead, only one window can be in the foreground at a time, with the others automatically slipped behind it. To be honest, it does look a little annoying, but it also looks like the best chance iPad users have ever had to do the kind of inter-app tasks that are just so much easier on the Mac.

And things get even wilder when you hook up an external display. Then, just like the Mac, the new screen can be used as an independent monitor, and you can use a mouse to drag an additional four windows around. You could have an app on the iPad's screen for drawing with the Apple Pencil and then a Keynote presentation up on the big screen, into which you can drag and drop the drawing.

Upsides, Downsides

The idea is that we get most of the benefits of overlapping, resizable windows, but without the confusion that is almost inevitable with a completely freeform window system. Not everyone likes it, though.

"I would never in a million years use Stage Manager—on Mac or iPad," Graham Bower, iPad user and graphic designer, told Lifewire via DM. "I honestly have no clue why they didn't just use the Dock. Now we have two docks. Great."

The danger for Apple is that people might now choose to stick with their M1 iPads instead of upgrading to the Mac. On the other hand, this could tempt a lot of people to the iPad who weren't interested before. But for everyone, this is a significant update.

An iPad with iPadOS 16 displaying the multiple windows feature.

Apple

"I think Mac sales won't be much affected by the new iPadOS features this year. There are still some workflows that are better solved on Macs. In my opinion, people would rather consider buying an iPad as a secondary device to complete basic and intermediate tasks on the go and leave the Mac for advanced/office tasks," Serhii Popov, Software Engineer at Setapp by MacPaw.

Apple has finally delivered features worthy of the powerful M1 chip, and has signaled that it realizes many people use the iPad for seriously complex tasks. And being able to dock your iPad and use it as a computer with a screen, mouse, and keyboard is just huge.

In the end, though, this is a very welcome update and finally provides a good reason to upgrade to an M1 iPad. If you like how things work on your iPad right now, then you can keep on truckin'. Nothing has been removed in this regard. But just like the iPad hardware, which can be a tablet, or turn into a laptop with the Magic Keyboard and trackpad case, or work with the Apple Pencil, the iPad's interface can change to suit how you want to work, from the OG single-screen method, right up to a power-users dream with multiple screens and a proper keyboard. It's pretty wild stuff.

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