iPadOS 16 hands-on: Finally making monitor multitasking useful, mostly

iPadOS 16 hands-on: Finally making monitor multitasking useful, mostly

Twitter, Slack, Outlook, and Safari are all open at the same time, and I browse and scan between all of them. This is on my monitor. It’s like any other day. I now play Catan on my iPad. Everything I do is powered by the iPad, with the monitor connected via USB-C as a secondary display. I almost feel like I’m on a Mac. But… I’m not.

iPad OS 16 introduces a feature I’ve wanted in iPads for years: true multi-window multitasking and true external monitor support for expanded workspaces. A public beta preview of the software is available Now available (that I would not recommend installing it on your everyday personal device). How iPadOS does both is the weird part. According to my previous experience, the navigation requires a lot of fine-tuning.

You’ll also need an M1-equipped iPad for these new multitasking features to work, which means a torrent iPad Pro gold iPad Air Model. No others will be compatible. These iPads are on the expensive side, making this a pro feature you might not even think is worth upgrading for.

Continue reading: iPad Air 2022 (M1) in review

I could go into other iPadOS features, but I’ll do that later because that’s really it tea function this year. Stage Manager, which enables these additional multitasking benefits, brings with it a whole new layout that also has an extremely alien feel to it. And that’s the problem with iPadOS now. It’s powerful, and it’s also weird, and still not Mac-like enough.

It feels like Apple is trying to create a new computer interface, but through tiny steps and experimentation. As iPadOS shuttles back and forth between iPhone and Mac, taking more parts from each and mixing them up, the parts don’t always make sense. This is where I am after trying out the public beta: struggling to find my iPadOS sea legs.


Arranging iPad apps on a large monitor is finally useful in iPadOS 16.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Good: Monitor magic

Now plug in a monitor and wow, it’s like a Mac. Apps can be opened on the monitor or iPad, and the mouse or trackpad cursor simply moves back and forth like on a Mac with a monitor port. I don’t think Apple’s new Stage Manager changes things much for people working directly on an iPad (see below), but wow, it opens up possibilities if you have a monitor nearby.

Using an iPad Air with Magic keyboard attached, I simply placed it in front of my Dell monitor and felt it finally become a dual screen device. It’s especially weird and fun to be able to control apps with the keyboard and trackpad while also doing things with the touchscreen on the iPad when an app is open there. For me, it was playing Catan while responding to emails and Slacks. Stupid and awesome too.

Now I’m playing some John Williams soundtracks while I write and play Slacke and some Catan and check Twitter, and it basically feels like my typical day full of screens, but all iPad-enabled.

The whole experience reminds me in many ways of using Samsung’s DeX, which enables desktop computing experiences on its tablets and phones when connected to a monitor. Years ago I found this DeX works in the end surprisingly good, sometimes. Apple takes a similar approach with the iPad M1 models, but with super power. Running multiple apps at the same time is far more useful than you might think since you probably do it on your laptop every day unconsciously.

Plug in a monitor and you’ll find that it connects the way monitors should, allowing separate apps to be opened independently of the iPad’s display. A new Display Settings feature also lets you mirror your iPad in a way that iPadOS only allowed before (who wants that?). The monitor settings allow shifting the second display orientation: if you select the monitor “above” your iPad, the mouse/trackpad cursor will move from the iPad to the monitor when you move up.

There’s also a new additional resolution mode on the iPad display itself, which compresses text and apps for “more space”. On the 11-inch iPad Air, it didn’t seem to do much for my work experience other than making text smaller. On the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the screen can feel more laptop-like.

In order for apps to open at the same time, you need to open them from the dock and drag them into place. App windows can now be resized, but not with full freedom. Windows can squeeze and stretch and go horizontally or vertically, but Apple limits the sizes and shapes. It feels like fuzzy experimentation to get the layout you want. And when windows get too big, Apple overlaps the windows. But only in a very specific way, so it’s not as free as a regular Mac’s window-based (not Windows-based!) operating system.


The multiple windows become less useful on the iPad display, especially if you don’t have the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro (right).

Scott Stein/CNET

The Bad: How does this work again?

It’s another thing to have all the apps open and working and figuring out how to navigate them. Apple introduced Stage Manager, a new multitasking manager, but the app/feature is only launched in Control Center by swiping down and tapping a cryptic one-block, three-dot icon. Normally nobody will find out.

It’s getting weirder. Stage Manager has instances of grouped open apps, but if an app is already open you simply switch to that instance instead of overlaying it with the other open ones, although you can also drag open apps on and off this side dock into your workspace. On the iPad itself, those other app windows stay open on the side, shrinking your free app viewing area. Apps can be expanded again, but jumping back and forth to select apps quickly becomes confusing. And then there’s that three-dot icon over Windows, which still handles app zooming, split-screening, and minimizing the same way iPad OS 15. Follow me? I assume you are not.

I got lost even though I’m a longtime iPadOS user. And apps can’t just be dragged from one window to another either. Just when I felt like I was falling into a Mac flow, iPadOS throws me down an eerie valley again.

And there are also public beta bugs: when I connect to a monitor, my iPad audio turns off unless I’m using headphones. Sometimes I had sudden crash restarts from too many open apps. And when I unplug the monitor, I suddenly find some app groups with blank black windows. Oh, and I tried to start Catan on my monitor and it started sideways. Beta explorers, good luck.

Stage Manager gets so annoying on the iPad display that I immediately turn it off again unless I’m connected to a monitor. For me it is specifically a monitor multitasking mode.

The deeper I go, the weirder and more buggy it feels. I am trying to launch Batman Returns on Apple TV to watch as I write this and it autoplays on the monitor instead of my iPad screen. I can move the entire video up to the monitor but not back down to the iPad. And then when I try to move Pages from the monitor to the iPad screen (which is done via the very small three-dot icon at the top of each window, which now has a menu that vaguely says “Move to display”), it will the app suddenly appears blank and I have to force quit it.

Overall: A step forward (if you love monitors), but a strange one

iPadOS 16 has most of iOS 16’s greatest hits, minus that cool new customizable lock screen feature. There’s finally a weather app developed by Apple (yay?). There are more built-in ways to share documents and collaborate in groups over Messages or FaceTime, expanding on what was started last year. Apple’s promising collaborative whiteboard app, called Freeform, isn’t yet in public beta but is expected to be available this fall.

I still don’t recommend downloading an Apple public OS beta on your main device because too many weird and bad things can happen. The iPadOS 16 beta crashed on me several times.

But just for the fact that M1 iPads can use an additional monitor as a real second screen, I’m already excited. I just wish the whole Stage Manager process made more sense and allowed for much smoother or more flexible window placement and screen jumps because at the moment it feels like a beta feature. Even the way Apple allows you to toggle the feature on and off from Control Center suggests that it might not yet be seen as an everyday feature, but as a “pro” that you need to consciously look for to use them.

But I enjoy writing and playing Catan at the same time. Having my iPad Pro at my desk is now much more fun and much more productive, even if it makes me less productive. I’m sorry, it’s my turn now. I will build a city.

#iPadOS #handson #Finally #making #monitor #multitasking

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