My Current Relationship With the iPad

Last week Jason Snell and John Gruber weighed in on what they’re doing with their iPads these days. I, too, have a much-simplified relationship with my iPad.

For years, I tried to turn the iPad into a production machine. I still love the idea of sitting down with a piece of glass and getting real work done. But there were just too many hoops to jump through for much of my work. I remember at one point sitting in a meeting as a lawyer while we were discussing the purchase of a company. An accountant in the room sent me ten spreadsheets to review. I had an iPad Pro and thought to myself, “How am I going to keep up with everybody in the room trying to process these files on an iPad?“ The answer, it turns out, is that I didn’t.

The real turning point for me was a dinner conversation with my children. Both were in college and using their iPads and were very happy with them. They explained how they used them to take class notes, work on outlines, and make themselves flashcards. It sounded like an Apple commercial.

I realized as I listened to them that they were using the iPad just like Apple envisions it. They were not looking at edge case uses but instead using it for what it is good at. That is when the switch flipped in my brain, and I changed my relationship with the iPad.

People will tell you that if you’re in a relationship with another human and think you can change them, you’re on a fool’s errand. I feel like the same goes for the iPad. You have to accept it for what it is to enjoy using it.

It’s been several years of me using the iPad as Apple intended instead of as I wanted. I can tell you the relationship is a lot healthier. I still use it all the time (indeed, I am dictating this blog post on my iPad mini.), But I’m not trying to get it to record podcasts or perform any task that requires me to do silly things like setting up server connections or gimmicky Rube Goldberg-based automation schemes.

The iPad remains a production-plus-consumption device for me. I write on it, research on it, and plan on it. But as soon as I meet any significant resistance, I set it down and pick up a Mac.

So, the iPad and I are settled and at peace with one another. I still wish Apple would give the iPad more horsepower. There are many ways Apple could make these devices, which run on Apple silicon, take on Mac-type work. Until then, I’m done swimming upstream. I use my iPad as the maker intended.

Getting back to those posts by Jason and John, I usually bring my iPad mini and MacBook Air when I travel. I generally find nothing I can’t do without those two machines. 

iPadOS 16 Delay

Today Apple confirmed to Tech Crunch that the iPadOS 16 will get pushed back to later in the fall and officially get released at version 16.1.

As the iPadOS creeps away from iOS, I don’t think this should be a surprise. Indeed, I could see this being the model going forward. Apple earns half of its revenue from the iPhone. While a delayed iPadOS release is not a big deal, a delayed iPhone very much is a big deal. If I were in Tim Cook’s chair, I would also be focused on the iPhone right now too.

Initial Thoughts on Stage Manager

Mathew Panzarino at Tech Crunch is one of the most intelligent people writing about Apple these days. I was pleased to see he spent time with Craig Federighi (Apple’s Software chief) to talk about Stage Manager.

If you’ve been under a rock the last week, Stage Manager is Apple’s new attempt at multitasking. It uses stacks of related apps (that you create) along the left side of the screen. It works on both iPad and Mac, and taping (or clicking) on any stack of apps minimizes the existing apps and opens the stack of apps in its place.

Stage Manager screenshot

Interestingly, Federighi disclosed that this feature was not designed for both iPad and Mac from the get-go, but instead, both teams had similar designs that approached one another.

From Federighi, “There were many of us who use the Mac every day who really wanted this kind of focused experience that gave us that balance. So we were on the Mac side, picking this idea up and saying we think that’s in reach, we want to make this happen. And separately on the iPad side we were thinking about [it]. And believe it or not two independent teams who are brainstorming and designing converge on almost the identical idea.”

The Stage Manager on iPad requires an M1-equipped iPad. While that’s a bummer if you are using older hardware. I don’t believe this is Apple trying to get you to buy a new iPad but instead what it seems: a feature enabled by new, more powerful hardware and additional memory. Federighi explains at length in the Tech Crunch article, “It’s only the M1 iPads that combined the high DRAM capacity with very high capacity, high performance NAND that allows our virtual memory swap to be super fast …”

I’d also note that Stage Manager lets you run four simultaneous iPad apps (or eight if you have an attached external screen). We’ve all been asking Apple to take advantage of the powerful iPad hardware. Now it has.

I’ve been using Stage Manager now for a week. I have opinions from two angles, the iPad and the Mac. For the iPad, Stage Manager is what I would call vertical improvement. It substantially improves multitasking and adds options that weren’t there before. Moreover, it is immediately accessible. I think many folks who don’t pay any attention to things like WWDC and MacSparky are going to latch onto Stage Manager on their iPad and suddenly start multitasking. I’ll be shocked if this one isn’t a winner. Already, I have stacks on my iPad of communication apps, research apps, and writing apps that I can jump between with just a tap. It changes the way I use the iPad.

On the Mac side, I would call it a horizontal improvement. Stage Manager isn’t necessarily better than some of the other options, like Spaces or using automation. It’s simply different; It’s another option. It’s better in some ways, like how accessible it is. It’s worse in other ways. You do lose some screen real estate, and at this point, it isn’t particularly keyboard friendly. I’m unsure where I will land with Stage Manager and the Mac. I think of someone like my wife, who finds Spaces completely baffling, will easily be using Stage Manager on both her iPad and her Mac.

And I think that is part of the point. Using the same paradigm on the iPad and Mac makes it much easier for most users to adopt and use the paradigm. People who figure it out on the iPad will want it on their Mac and vice versa. Not everyone is nuts enough to write an AppleScript to set up their writing applications.

In my initial testing, Stage Manager feels like the best window management system Apple has ever put on the iPad and perhaps the most accessible window management system Apple has ever proposed on the Mac. The trick is holding everything to that one screen. In the TechCrunch article, Craig Federighi also explains that the Stage Manager system is still evolving and will change throughout the betas. I am looking forward to its evolution.