iPad Pro apps can't use all its RAM yet, but there's a wild iPadOS update on the horizon

12.9-inch iPad Pro
12.9-inch iPad Pro (Image credit: Joseph Keller / iMore)

OK, I never really got Pokémon but even I know that's a reference.

Earlier today saw a report that Apple's iPads don't use all of their RAM or, more accurately, they don't give apps access to it all. Even more accurately, they don't give any one app access to it all. For, reasons.

Those reasons are likely pretty obvious when you think about it. Traditionally, iPadOS apps aren't huge monsters like Photoshop, Final Cut Pro X, etc. They don't need globs and globs of RAM to function. They need enough, however much that might be. So iPadOS, in its current state and on even the iPad Pro models with 16GB of RAM, give them 5GB each, give or take. 5GB to do what they need to do. And that's more than enough for most apps. It Just Works.

Apple presumably decided that limiting apps to 5GB worked in a couple of ways. First, apps didn't need more so that's cool, and second, it stops rogue apps – badly coded ones, for example – from going RAM crazy and hogging everything to the point of making the whole iPad grind to a half. That's a bad user experience and it just won't do. So, 5GB it is.

Except, apps are growing and Apple does want iPads to be bonafide computers. So that 5GB needs to grow, as Procreate is finding out.

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So where do we go now? Well, that 5GB made sense on devices that had up to 6GB of RAM, like the outgoing 1TB iPad Pro. It reserved 1GB for iPadOS to do its thing. But 11GB left over seems a bit much, right? Sure, it will help keep more apps alive during backgrounding but really, 11GB? Thankfully, a wild iPadOS 15 appeared. Or will, soon. And that's another reference.

With WWDC now a little more than a week away and iPadOS 15 set to get its first beta, there's a good chance that Apple will increase that 5GB limit, at least on devices with more RAM than a mid-range Mac. Sure, we'll be waiting until September for iPadOS 15 to arrive but still, it's a step in the right direction.

After all, why put so much RAM into an iPad if it isn't going to give apps access to it?

Also, if you ever wondered why Apple doesn't normally tell you how much RAM is in an iPad or an iPhone, this entire post is probably why.

Speaking of iPad Pro – it's pretty great. You should totally keep an eye on our list of the best iPad Pro deals and snag one when you can.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • This would be nothing new: my 2018 iPad Pro with 1TB storage and my iPad 4 with 128GB storage also incurred RAM-related issues at first. Probably "clipping" and therefore reporting too little RAM available. By the way, does iOS/iPadOS use "spooling" (offloading RAM to storage)?
  • Offloading RAM to storage is memory swapping, not spooling. Spooling was originally designed for printers. Since printing was such a slow process, the print job would be “spooled” from the mainframe to a much smaller computer that was dedicated to handling the printer. If the printer was busy, jammed, out of paper or otherwise offline, the mainframe did not need to know (or care) about these details. The mainframe’s time was WAY too valuable to waste by waiting on a printer. BTW, the term “spool” is actually an acronym. It stands for “Simultaneous Peripheral Operations On Line”. Meaning the print job was handed over to the print spooler, and the mainframe continued on with it’s other operations. But all of this is ancient history. These days, print jobs are still “spooled” to a print queue, which is managed be a low priority thread in the OS. So when you print a Word doc for example, Word does not know or care about the printer. The OS and printer driver handle the details. I don’t know if iOS does memory swapping. I’m pretty sure it did not originally, because it was so small and so little RAM and storage were involved.
  • "...making the whole iPad grind to a half." Or even worse, making it grind to a halt.
  • So they may or may not have an update that addresses this. The title makes it seem like there is already an update out there to address this. Guess only time will tell if IpadOS15 truly takes advantage of the new ipads or if its more of the same.