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I’ve been testing out the newest version on an M1 iPad Pro since the public beta of iPadOS 16 became available to download, and although certain additions are quite welcome, Stage Manager brings the entire thing tumbling down, for the time being at least.
I’ve already discussed how I left the iPad behind because I wanted a device with better software capabilities, and the MacBook Pro more than meets that demand.
However, iPadOS 16 appears to be Apple’s attempt to convince you that your iPad can be just as excellent as, if not superior to, your present laptop.
We’ll only be talking about the new features for the iPad because many of them are also included in iOS 16 and macOS Ventura. However, our US Editor-in-Chief has written up some views if you’re interested in seeing what we’ve thought so far about iOS 16.
I chose to write this post using an M1 iPad running iPadOS 16 to see how Stage Manager and the other updates would work.
There are other updates spread throughout the iPad, including new menu choices for several Apple apps, an enhanced zoom display to reveal more material, and long-awaited updates to Mail. However, during my time using the software, Stage Manager, Apple’s most recent attempt to address multitasking on M1 iPads, has consistently been inconsistent.
It’s good, but it’s not quite right
Let’s start with the name because, in my opinion, it doesn’t adequately convey what this function seeks to do. Center Stage makes more sense, for instance, for another function that lets the iPad’s camera follow you around while you move during a call. Stage Manager, though, feels odd. Windows have no place on this stage, and operating them is at best difficult. Maybe Window Manager or Window Control would be a better approach to explain this new multitasking method?
In any case, you may enable Stage Manager by going to Control Center, which is accessed by sliding down from the top right corner of your iPad, and tapping the new icon that will be at the bottom of the screen.
Once it’s enabled, you might not notice any difference, but if you’re in an app, you could see a thin line at the bottom left or right. This will let you resize an application to a certain size.
I mention “certain sizes” because Apple disabled the ability to resize windows to any size. A picture-in-picture video’s functionality is similar in that you are unable to install windows everywhere. As you try to organize these windows, they occasionally shift and resize on their own, which has further increased my annoyance with this function. They all snap to an invisible grid.
There’s also three dots at the top of every window, which you can use to close a window, make it full screen, or add a new window. But i found each of these options to only work occasionally, as some windows would refuse to go full screen, or closing a window would rearrange the view of the other apps in Stage Manager, most likely due to the invisible grid.
Regardless of my issues here, I can have four apps display at once, all in different sizes that I was almost happy with. Writing this very article, I’d be in Google Docs, Slack, Outlook, and Safari all at once. However, if I needed to switch between two apps, I’d have to bring up the dock, and then select – for example – Google Docs or Safari to bring one to the forefront. Reaching for one that’s behind some of these active windows is awkward, and sometimes I’d find myself selecting the wrong app.
External display support is one glaring advantage that must be emphasized in this context. When Stage Manager arrived at last, connecting the iPad to my 1440P 27-inch display was a sight to behold. It accurately rendered iPadOS together with the other four applications in this perspective. But once more, I had the aforementioned problems, thus a little amount of the enjoyment was dampened by Stage Manager’s complexities.
However, the public beta also offered a new enhancement for iPhone applications that haven’t been optimized for iPad, so for instance, I may use Instagram alongside Safari, Google Docs, and other apps in their iPhone 13-sized form. It’s a nice little addition.
Multitasking can be a struggle
You often reach the screen above where you may change to a new app when you glide up with three fingers.
Now that your Stage Manager applications are shown here as well, you could assume that you might choose your apps from this page. You can’t use this to bring one of the four programs to the foreground; instead, it merely freezes the current view you’re in.
It would be nice to see some progress made in this area before Stage Manager is released later this year because you can’t currently navigate between programs in Stage Manager with CMD + Tab.
One other thing is when you wish to switch out one app for a new one. For instance, when I tried to utilize the Weather app, Outlook was changed without a prompt. I’d much rather have a dialog window that asks me which program to replace. In that case, I’m taking a chance on which app will be dropped. A headache, that.
Stage Manager does, however, draw attention to how much PiP (picture-in-picture) support has to be enhanced. In iPadOS, this can enable some films to be seen wherever you are, but there hasn’t been an update since iOS 9.
However, I can open YouTube and Safari in separate windows in Stage Manager, and I can scale YouTube to the same size as a PiP while using a timeline scrubber. Due to the superior control I have here in Stage Manager, it makes PiP useless in certain circumstances.
For now: It’s good, but it could be great
Look, I know multitasking on iPad has needed a redesign for a few years now, but using Stage Manager in its current state, I’m constantly reminded of how Safari in iOS 15 went in 2021. Apple’s web browser dramatically changed its design from how it was when announced at WWDC 2021, to when the new version released in September.
I can see the same occurring with Stage Manager over the coming months. Snapping to an invisible grid, having apps disappear without you being prompted, and the awkward resizing of windows, alongside the clunkiness of trying to get some apps to move to the front, are all things that clearly need work – and hopefully will get it.
I find it puzzling because Stage Manager, which is compatible with macOS Ventura as well, functions well without the constraints of iPadOS. The lack of an invisible grid and the flexibility to organize windows without worrying about programs disappearing make the feature pleasurable to use on a Mac, despite the fact that the desktop on a Mac with the feature enabled seems cluttered at first glance.
The Mac already has tools like Mission Control and Expose that address similar window management difficulties, so some users could choose to keep it off.
I support Apple’s decision to limit this to iPad M1 models exclusively. Many consumers questioned the rationale for the M1 chip’s inclusion in the iPad. Here’s why, albeit future iPadOS updates beckon, so it won’t be the only feature that’s exclusive to M1.
But as we near the official release of iPadOS 16 later this year, Stage Manager needs more TLC. It functions up to a point, but if more improvements aren’t made, it can aggravate people more than it does satisfy them.