Apple's iPad models are incredibly powerful, so much so that it often feels like the software is holding back the hardware — and that's especially true with desktop-class chips now powering several iPad models.
For iPad power users, one of the main frustrations with using their devices each day is the lack of true multi-window multitasking, but that could be about to change if the latest rumor is to be believed.
Apple is developing a smart system for iPadOS. Apps will continue to open full screen but automatically shrink when connected to keyboard and trackpad. Internally it is called Apple Mixer. We don’t know if it will be included in iPadOS 16 or not, It should be M1 iPad exclusive. pic.twitter.com/1WfMj5TGueApple is developing a smart system for iPadOS. Apps will continue to open full screen but automatically shrink when connected to keyboard and trackpad. Internally it is called Apple Mixer. We don’t know if it will be included in iPadOS 16 or not, It should be M1 iPad exclusive. pic.twitter.com/1WfMj5TGue— Majin Bu (@MajinBuOfficial) March 15, 2022March 15, 2022
Over on Twitter, self-professed researcher Majin Bu claims that "Apple is developing a smart system for iPadOS" that will allow apps to operate in full-screen but enable them to "automatically shrink when connected to keyboard and trackpad." Internally dubbed Apple Mixer, apparently, the feature might not make it into iPadOS 16, might be M1-exclusive, or, you know, may not exist at all, but it's got me excited for the future of the iPad regardless.
Paving the way
iOS, and by extension iPadOS, was designed to get out of the way for the most part and allow the content to fill your screen. This simplicity has proven immensely popular, but it didn't scale particularly well to the larger and more powerful iPad models.
As bigger iPad screens started arriving, so too did the ability to display more than one app at once, but the iPad's multitasking experience is still fairly rudimentary. Features like drag and drop have made using an iPad seem more computer-like, but it's still not quite there and, particularly at the Pro-end of the iPad line, the hardware is being kneecapped by the software.
Adding keyboard and, more importantly, trackpad support to iPadOS has made the experience feel much more laptop-like and has opened up new ways of working where touch is too imprecise, though the windowing is still where the experience falls down.
I had hoped that iPadOS 15 might fundamentally re-imagine the iPad software experience after a lackluster iPadOS 14 release, but the 2021 update focused mainly on improving foundational experiences. iPadOS 15 did improve the discoverability and usability of multitasking, but not how it actually works, though perhaps we got a glimpse into a floating window future with the new Quick Note feature.
Of course, I am running away with this rumor being true at this point but the idea of automatically changing modes based on peripherals sounds incredible. Thanks to the Smart Connector, an iPad Pro or iPad Air 5 detects when it has been magnetically attached to a Magic Keyboard immediately. A Bluetooth keyboard and mouse getting connected could elicit the same response in software.
Discoverability is one potential problem, and Apple has often hidden away some of its most advanced features behind gestures or deep down in Accessibility settings pages. However, given the productivity focus of a potential true windowing experience and the clunkiness of trying to resize small windows with fat fingers, I think this would be one case where a power-user feature is right to be obfuscated from view, this time unavailable until the right peripherals are detected.
I would imagine, again if this rumor turns out to be true, that this windowing experience would play nice with Universal Control too, allowing you to flow freely between many windows on your Mac and iPad using just one mouse and keyboard.
Two floating windows ≠ proper multitasking
A lot of people sitting in front of a Mac or PC for work will keep a ton of windows open all day, every day. Right now, I have Mail, Safari, Music, Slack, and Notes open on my Mac screen. When I work from my iPad, I only really ever have two of these apps open at a time and have to switch between different multitasking views that I set up.
The ability to have three or more apps open on screen at once, with windows that can be dynamically resized to suit my needs, would be a huge boon. Those that like to work this way will enjoy it, those that prefer to operate one-app-at-a-time will still be able to do so. There's very little downside.
The people who spend laptop-like prices on one of the best iPads and a Magic Keyboard today expect a laptop-like experience, and iPadOS does not really provide one just yet. Proper support for windows would certainly win a lot of folks over and be a powerful marketing message for the more premium iPad models and the Magic Keyboard accessory.
However, the example shown in the tweet from Majin Bu simply has two smaller windows on an iPad screen. That alone is not an improvement on what we have today with Split Screen.
The suggestion appears to be that these can be placed arbitrarily on the screen, that there's room for more than two windows, and there may even be the possibility to resize them, overlap them, and otherwise arrange them however you want. That Mac-like multitasking experience is sorely lacking from iPadOS and is particularly noticeable when using a keyboard and trackpad that already feels so Mac-like in terms of hardware.
How Apple solves power management when multiple apps are all viewable at once remains to be seen. It has been pretty good at handling background states for apps on mobile up to this point and macOS is already smart about prioritizing power for visible windows over those that are not actively in use, so I'm sure that there could be an efficient way to do it. Regardless, those choosing to use this mode may be happy to trade off a little bit of the iPad's stellar battery life for the improved multitasking experience.
Apple's worldwide developer conference is just a few months away and we'll no doubt see Apple's vision for the future of the iPad laid out there with the unveiling of iPadOS 16.
Though this feature may not be ready for the next version of iPadOS, according to the leaker, it or something like it is surely on Apple's docket for iPad in the near future.
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Adam Oram is a Senior Writer at iMore. He studied Media at Newcastle University and has been writing about technology since 2013. He previously worked as an Apple Genius and as a Deals Editor at Thrifter. His spare time is spent watching football (both kinds), playing Pokémon games, and eating vegan food. Follow him on Twitter at @adamoram.