Will iPadOS 16 Finally Turn It Into a Desktop Alternative?

If it does, it would be a dream come true

  • iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 will be announced in June at Apple’s WWDC. 
  • The iPad runs on a Mac chip but cannot run Mac apps.
  • iPad hardware is just too powerful for its software.
An iPadPro on a Magic Keyboard stand.

Daniel Romero / Unsplash

iPadOS 16 is just around the corner. Will this be the year that iPadOS finally catches up to the amazing iPad hardware?

Ever since the flat-edged, home-button-less 2018 iPad Pro, the iPad’s hardware has been way more capable than the operating system. The gap is even more apparent with the M1 version, an iPad that uses the same chip as the Mac. Wrangling files is still a pain, you still can’t record a podcast, and Apple’s Pro apps, like Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro, are nowhere to be seen. Is that about to change?

"One of the biggest features that is rumored to be coming in iPadOS 16 is support for multiple windows. This would allow users to have more than one app open at a time and easily switch between them, making the iPad much more versatile and capable as a productivity device," software engineer Morshed Alam told Lifewire via email. 

Lagging

The iPad is a spectacular tablet, but it’s only a so-so computer. I used the iPad as my main device for years, and while it was capable, it always seemed that everything was a little bit harder than it should have been. Even if you shed the habits bred from years of Mac or PC use and embrace the iPad’s strengths, some things remain frustrating.

"This would allow users to have more than one app open at a time and easily switch between them, making the iPad much more versatile and capable as a productivity device."

For instance, getting a file, or even a text snippet, from one place to another is still a pain. On the Mac, you just drag and drop. If your “drop” destination isn’t visible, you can leave the file on the desktop while you find it. The iPad supports drag and drop, but it’s only practical when you use a mouse or trackpad, and even then, only a subset of apps support it, so you can be left in the lurch, as it were. 

Similarly, the iPad has hundreds or thousands of amazing music-making apps, but the underlying audio engine is limited and unreliable. Plugins disappear regularly, and you can only hook up one audio interface at a time. 

The Next Step

So what can Apple do about it? One option is to do nothing. The iPad is selling well, it’s popular, and many buyers like it precisely because its simplicity makes it more approachable than a Mac or PC. But Apple has already proved that it can add complex functions to the iPad without compromising ease-of-use. The keyboard and mouse support, introduced with iOS 13.4, stays out of the way until you want it, for example. 

Serial Apple rumormonger Mark Gurman thinks that Apple could add several Mac-like features to iPadOS 16 without making anything more complicated for most users. Multi-window support is one idea, with windows that can be moved or even float above each other. The iPad already does this with the Quick Notes window, so this isn’t a huge leap. 

Another idea is an improved dock where you can temporarily pin arbitrary files, a "proper desktop" where you can temporarily drop files and miniature widget-like apps that can float above other apps—a calculator or sticky notes, for example. 

Just Buy a Mac

Just because Apple could improve the iPad doesn’t mean that it should. After all, there’s already a very capable Apple computer with all the features listed above and more. It’s the Mac, and thanks to the M1 chips, Macs now enjoy the same cool-running and spectacular battery life of the iPad. Maybe the answer is to buy a Mac and let the iPad keep doing what it does best. 

“The iPad and the Mac are fundamentally different devices in that one is optimized for touch, the other a pointing device such as a mouse or trackpad,” software developer John Myers told Lifewire via email. "iPadOS multitasking is optimized for this scenario, and a windowed interface just isn't the best way to do that. There has been some crossover with the iPad Magic Keyboard, which has a trackpad, but even there, it would likely be to shift back and forth to a windowed UI or touch-optimized UI.”

This is the conundrum that Apple faces. But it’s a pickle that it has landed itself in. When Apple put the Mac’s M1 chip into the iPad and made a big deal about it, the obvious question was, “Why can’t I run Mac apps on this?” And that’s a question that Apple now has to answer, one way or the other.

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