For a big­ger iPad to work iOS needs im­prove­ment

Ja­son Snell looks at how Ap­ple could make iOS a pro­duc­tiv­ity pow­er­house

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -


The fu­ture of iOS is bright. While I love my Mac and ex­pect to be us­ing the Mac for a long time yet, iOS is the Ap­ple op­er­at­ing sys­tem for the next 30 years. As I de­scribed on page 74, there are many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions iOS can go in, tak­ing the plat­form be­yond the size and shape of to­day’s iPhone, iPad, Ap­ple TV, and Ap­ple Watch.

I be­lieve that iOS’s fu­ture is big – and I mean that lit­er­ally. The 12.9in iPad Pro I’m us­ing to write this ar­ti­cle is cur­rently the largest iOS de­vice in ex­is­tence, but it seems in­evitable that Ap­ple will want to size up iOS even more, whether it’s in a 15- or 17in mega-tablet, or an even larger desk­top iOS de­vice sim­i­lar to the style of Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Stu­dio.

The prob­lem is that iOS was orig­i­nally de­signed for small phone screens. Even now, seven years af­ter the de­but of the iPad, there are ar­eas of the iPad in­ter­face that feel bar­ren. (Spaced-out apps on the home screen, I’m look­ing at you.)

Re­cent ver­sions of iOS have coun­ter­acted this feel­ing by al­low­ing the iPad to run more than one app on screen si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It’s a good start, and while it’s a bit tight when you run two apps on the 9.7in iPad Pro, on the 12.9in model it seems per­fectly nat­u­ral.

So what else could be done to make the iOS in­ter­face scale bet­ter, if larger de­vices are on the hori­zon? Here are a few ideas.

Three apps at once:

I don’t think I’d like to fre­quently work with three apps open at one time, but on the larger iPad Pro in land­scape ori­en­ta­tion, it would ab­so­lutely work. I’ve cer­tainly found my­self run­ning two apps in Split View and wish­ing that I could use Slide Over for a third app. And the larger the screen, the less ridicu­lous a three-way split sounds.

Im­proved Split View:

The Split View fea­ture in­tro­duced in iOS 9 is great, but it’s re­ally Ap­ple’s

first take on the fea­ture, and there’s more that could be done. The mul­ti­task­ing app picker is ter­ri­ble, and should be the first to go. I’d also like it if the in­ter­face to quickly switch apps on both sides of the split was par­al­lel – right now you can mul­ti­fin­ger swipe on the left side as you can with reg­u­lar apps, but on the right side you need to swipe from the top of the screen to get to the picker.

Drag and Drop:

Do I even need to say it? It’s the miss­ing piece of iPad mul­ti­task­ing, and that’s been clear since day one. Here’s hop­ing that Ap­ple in­tro­duces Drag and Drop be­tween apps in Split View and Slide Over in the next ma­jor iOS up­date.

Mis­sion Con­trol for iPad: An eas­ier way to think of im­prov­ing mul­ti­task­ing on iOS is to con­sider Mis­sion Con­trol on the Mac. Yes, iPad users can four-fin­ger swipe left and right to change apps, which is sim­i­lar to how it works on the Mac. Rather than a stack of cards, I’d like the iOS app switcher to dis­play a zoomed-out view, more like what hap­pens when you pinch closed a Sa­fari win­dow. That view could also be used as an in­ter­face for do­ing other ad­vanced mul­ti­task­ing things like col­lect­ing pairs of Split View apps to­gether and let­ting you switch be­tween them with just a few ges­tures.

Add a lap­top key­board:

One shape I en­tirely failed to men­tion in my ar­ti­cle about iOS’s fu­ture last week is the lap­top it­self. If Ap­ple re­mains com­mit­ted to keep­ing iOS and macOS apart, it would seem logical that at some point Ap­ple will make an iOS de­vice with a key­board phys­i­cally at­tached to a screen. (Though I’d also be in­trigued by an iPad with a more rugged Ap­ple-de­signed Smart Key­board based on the key­board found in the most re­cent MacBook Pro mod­els.)

By it­self, adding a key­board doesn’t seem like it would be a ma­jor boost to iPad pro­duc­tiv­ity, but have you seen how large the soft­ware key­board is on the iPad Pro? Don’t get me wrong, I love it – it’s the best iOS soft­ware key­board by far – but it takes up an enor­mous por­tion of the screen. Mak­ing it eas­ier for iOS users to use key­boards is great for typ­ing, but it’s also great for the de­vice it­self, be­cause it gets to claw back mil­lions of pix­els for use by apps.

App tabs:

This might not work on ul­tra-large screens, but I think it could work on de­vices like the iPad Pro. Some­times you need to work with a bunch of apps at once, but you don’t need them all to be vis­i­ble at the same time. So why not let mul­ti­ple apps run si­mul­ta­ne­ously in a tabbed in­ter­face? It’s a metaphor that’s been with us for some time, and peo­ple seem to both like it and un­der­stand it. If your usual day of iPad use re­volves around five dif­fer­ent apps, why not put them all in tabs at the top of the screen and switch among them with ease?


On a larger screen, be­yond the size of the iPad Pro, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing putting apps in­side win­dows. I re­al­ize this sounds like heresy, but hear me out: pic­ture a 27in iPad Stu­dio. I know a lot of lap­top peo­ple who love run­ning apps full screen, but I can’t imag­ine run­ning many full-screen apps on my 5K iMac screen – it’s just too big. Only

Pho­to­shop, Logic, and Fi­nal Cut Pro man­age to take up my en­tire iMac screen – the rest of the time, I’ve got many apps open at once.

So how do you run sev­eral apps at once on a very large screen? You could tile them, sure, but above a cer­tain num­ber that gets re­ally com­plex, and tiles are not friendly to the squishy hu­mans who tend to use com­put­ers. Plac­ing win­dows in ar­bi­trary lo­ca­tions on a com­puter screen al­lows us to get ev­ery­thing just how we want it, even if that opin­ion changes on a minute by minute ba­sis.

Still, I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing for free-form win­dow­ing as we see it on the Mac. In­stead, pic­ture app win­dows that could be sized in a lim­ited set of ways. You don’t even need to imag­ine this – just grab an iPad Pro and play with Split View. Apps can run in full screen, share the screen 50/50, or share with the left app open on two-thirds of the screen with the right app tak­ing up the other third. (Slide Over is that same one-third size.) Apps get a lit­tle big­ger on the iPhone 7 Plus and a lit­tle smaller on the iPhone SE, and like­wise on the smaller and larger iPads. A free-float­ing app on a large iPad screen would have a huge num­ber of pos­si­ble sizes and shapes, even us­ing only the sizes cur­rently in use across iOS.

Will we see a 20-plus-inch iOS desk­top with a win­dowed in­ter­face any­time soon? I doubt it, but I could imag­ine one ex­ist­ing in the next three or four years. And I have to be hon­est, I’d be in­trigued by the idea of re­plac­ing my 5K iMac with one. It just needs to be able to run a bunch of apps at once, and let me ar­range them in a way that works for me.

You can Com­mand-Tab be­tween apps in iOS 10 us­ing the Smart Key­board, but a more Mis­sion Con­trol-like view that gave pre­views of the apps would be bet­ter

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