Thursday February 09, 2023

iPadOS 16 preview: Apple’s software keeps up with its hardware

Apple’s M1 processor was in the 2021 iPad Pro, and iPad Air. I was astonished at its inclusion. Apple’s A-series chips ran iPadOS very well in previous models, so it was no surprise that Apple included the M1 processor in the latest iPads. I’ve been using beta iPadOS 16 for the past few weeks and it’s clear why. It allows for some new multitasking features that make the iPad more flexible and it also allows for some completely new workflows that iPad users have been asking for for years. Apple calls this new multitasking system Stage Manager. Although it will only be available on three M1-powered iPad models at the moment, it is the most significant iPadOS 16 beta change in years. Apple’s WWDC announcements last month were not fully implemented in the beta software. Bhardwaj stated that “When we took some time to reflect, we realized there was an opportunity for us not only to have apps running on iPad, but also on an external display, so we can be able to multitask and have arrangements and flexibility that users have never experienced before.” Bhardwaj’s assessment is accurate, despite the bugs I encountered while running iPadOS 16 on an iPad Pro 2021 (more on that later). Stage Manager makes the iPad feel more like a Mac than ever before, while still maintaining the simplicity that the iPad is famous for. This is reflected in limitations. You can only have four apps “on stage” at a time, so you can’t stack as many apps and windows as you like. It’s a reasonable limitation. On a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, more than three apps can be running simultaneously on one stage. iPadOS keeps four additional stages on the left, each of which can hold up to four apps, so it’s much easier to switch between different apps. For example, I’m writing this story within a Pages document with a Notes instance next to it. I have Slack and Messages running in a communication-focused stage, a few Safari windows, and my email readily accessible via the left-side recent apps view. If I need something not readily available, I can tap any app in my dock and use Spotlight to search any app on my iPad. Although there is a learning curve, it is undoubtedly easier and more flexible than ever to use an iPad. Apple is allowing iPad users to customize their iPads at the expense of simplicity. This is a significant change. The external display can now be used as a separate workspace from your iPad’s screen. Previously, the external display was a mirror image of your iPad’s screen. Stage Manager allows you to have a separate set of apps running on the monitor. This makes it much more useful than ever before. The system crashed every time I tried to use my iPad with an external screen. This obviously slowed down productivity gains. There are also issues with apps not being able to resize their windows in a predictable manner. These issues will be fixed by iPadOS 16 when it is officially released in the fall. However, the beta is still very much a beta. Stage Manager, which is also coming for macOS Ventura, is a clear example of Apple’s ability to differentiate its platforms, even though they share many features. Bhardwaj stated that the iPad was a case in point. “We looked at how to optimize [Stage Manager] multitouch.” “Because people want to interact, we had to make adjusting windows or overlapping windows not feel overwhelming, and not feel like you need to have fine cursor control. Bhardwaj stated that people need fine-grained control due to the Mac’s behavior and usage. The rest of the iPadOS 16 preview was dominated with new collaboration features. Remote work is becoming more common in a world that has been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple clearly wants to make the iPad a more productive tool. Apple’s new collaboration API allows you to share documents such as Pages, Numbers, or Keynote with a group using Messages. All recipients can then work together on the document in real-time. Previously, you could only send a copy of a document. But now everyone in your group can make changes to the document. Updates are tracked in the Messages thread. You can also jump directly to a FaceTime chat with your group from a document. Bhardwaj stated that communication is often the first place we get ideas. “When you look at Messages and FaceTime, customers have been using them since a long time. It’s an integral part how our sets communicate with family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers. The new integration with FaceTime and Messages is what is unique. This won’t be enough for users who already use Google Docs and Microsoft Office. However, Apple’s new collaboration tools aren’t restricted to those apps. You can share tabs from Safari or content from Notes and Reminders. Apple is also expanding SharePlay, which was introduced last year to allow friends to watch videos and listen to music together, to Messages. Apple has made it possible to use SharePlay with games so that you can compete with your friend over FaceTime. Perhaps most importantly, Apple is making a Collaboration API accessible to third-party developers. This new tool could make it easier to collaborate with Messages, one the most important apps Apple provides. Bhardwaj stated that developers want to meet users where they are, where the conversation is taking place. For many people, this is in apps like FaceTime and Messages. This is great news for developers because a conversation that was already occurring organically can now be a great jumping off point into their app. You can create a new Freeform Board from a FaceTime call. This allows everyone to contribute, including text, web links, notes, and drawings created with an Apple Pencil. As they add items to the space, each contributor is highlighted. You can tap on a name to see what they are up to. It’s easy to add more material by zooming in and choosing a space that is free. AppleThe simple comparison is that it’s a virtual board, not a place for formal presentations but a place to brainstorm. Freeform will be available on Macs and iPhones as well, but it feels especially good for iPad users. Freeform will be available on Macs and iPhones, but it feels most at home on the iPad. The Mail app now supports undoing sends, scheduling emails, and a better search interface. The Messages app allows you to edit and undo sent messages. The Photos app now has a shared photo library that allows for automatic syncing between family members. Twelve years after the first iPad was released, there is now an official Weather app! The Weather app is a nice app with many tappable modules that provide detailed information on different conditions. It’s a typical iPadOS update in many ways: There are many new features that are nice to have, but they won’t change the way you use your iPad. The combination of features such as Stage Manager, Freeform, and the new collaboration tools shows how Apple intends the iPad to be more productive than ever before. To see how successful this update will be, we’ll need to wait until iPadOS 16 is released this fall. We felt that iPadOS 16 was not performing as well as its software, so we are happy to see Apple make some major changes. Some stories contain affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase something through one these links.

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