This is a Stage Manager first look at the iPadOS 16 developer’s first beta 1 preview software. Our first impressions will likely be very different from the final public release, and features may be changed or even removed in the coming months.
Apple’s WWDC event is always good for at least a few surprising moments, but the company’s unveiling of Stage Manager in iPadOS 16, a new way to manage your windows on iPad, is one of the most seismic for users. of iPad.
After 12 years of iPads exclusively running full-screen software, this fall’s iPadOS update will allow users to resize app windows to a variety of sizes.
We’ve been using Stage Manager on an iPad Pro for a few days, and although this is a very early version that we’ve tested, it sets the plans for using Apple’s tablet…as long as you have one with the Apple Silicon chip inside.
Don’t worry – your iPad can still work as before
Don’t worry, iPad is still as easy to use as ever. Apple didn’t remove any of the ways you use your iPad today, so you can skip this new feature altogether if you want.
Also, many iPad users won’t even see this new feature because it’s the first notable software feature exclusive to the M1 chip inside the most high-end iPads.
This feature currently only works on iPad Air (2022), 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021), or 11-inch iPad Pro (2021). If you have anything older than these templates, Stage Manager will not be an available option for you.
However, if you do have one of these M1 iPads, you can activate it in iPadOS 16 by going to Settings, then Control center and pressing the new icon to Managerwhich appears at the bottom of the menu.
Stage Manager experience
As I’m using the very first developer beta of iPadOS 16, you can imagine things are a bit difficult at the moment. You can indeed drag the windows however you want, such as resizing from a full screen view, down to a small window, in addition to having overlapping windows, or even completely covering an application with another.
But there are a lot of issues right now, as expected for a beta 1 release. Most of the apps are already designed to work on multiple screen sizes, so they scale quite well, but I’m running into a lot of bugs.
During my short time with the beta, I replicated some of the layouts I’m used to using on a Mac mini M1. For example, I often find myself working in Safari, but I also keep Slack and an email app open.
These windows are behind Safari, but stick out a bit so I can see if anything important comes in and I need to switch things up from what I’m doing. Technically, iPads could do this before using notifications, but personally I find this method less distracting.
But bugs aside, which will surely be ironed out before public release, the experience of using Stage Manager ranges from moments of confusion to other moments of feeling like it changes everything about what it means to work at from an iPad.
I first activated Stage Manager directly on my 11-inch iPad Pro and started launching apps and moving them around the screen. Technically, everything worked fine, but after a decade of using iPads in some way, it was really weird to have such a different experience.
Apps felt a bit small, and those that felt good in full screen suddenly felt cramped and a bit difficult to handle. At this screen size, it was really hard for me to see why I would ever use this mode when Split View, which supports two apps side by side on iPadOS, has been around for years and works pretty well anyway – which is basically how I use my MacBook Pro anyway
iPadOS 16 also comes with a new display zoom option for the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models called “more space,” which lets you shrink the UI slightly and allow more content to be displayed. on the screen at once.
It helped me find more use in Stage Manager on the iPad itself, but it still felt a bit cramped, as there just isn’t much room to start, and the iPad’s touch user interface still takes up a fair amount of space.
But Stage Manager doesn’t just work on the tablet itself, as you can also plug your iPad into almost any external display you want, and it will output full screen and native resolution to that display.
Finally, there are no more black bars to the left and right of your widescreen, although there’s a setting to get back to that if you prefer.
You can now plug in the iPad and your screen looks like a Mac. Your dock is at the bottom of the external display, and you can start launching apps just like you would in macOS.
That’s when my head started spinning with possibilities. While Stage Manager on my 11-inch iPad Pro felt a bit cramped, on a 27-inch 4K monitor I felt like iPadOS was finally breaking free from its constraints and having room to breathe.
At the time, it felt like a brand new start for the platform. I could see a lot more of my writings and my research notes at the same time. Video editing is suddenly something very doable on a big screen in a way that just wasn’t practical on the 11-inch iPad.
Photos come to life on a giant screen, and dragging and dropping between apps feels more natural when they all share the same space. Everything gets just as much or as little space as it needs, without everything having to be a full-screen experience.
The future of the iPad has arrived
Although it still doesn’t look like a Mac, Stage Manager immediately made me think of my iPad as something I could use for more tasks in my life.
I love the simplicity of working on the iPad, but one of the reasons I often choose to turn on my Mac is that I just want more screen real estate.
I want to see more of this website or I want to have more than one document available. Maybe I just want to have a more eye-level screen or use my nice mouse and keyboard that I have at my desk. Previously, this all meant moving to the Mac, but no longer with iPadOS 16 and Stage Manager.
Some things aren’t quite right yet, and I hope to see fixes and improvements during the beta period. But bugs aside, there’s one more thing I hope Apple will refine: how windows are arranged onscreen.
As it stands, each time you add a new window, the system will move your other windows around as it expects makes the most sense for you.
It’s cool when it works, but infuriating when it doesn’t do what you expect. Keyboard shortcuts also need some improvement, as I wish I could do more window management from the keyboard, and seemingly obvious options like force quitting apps from a button or command like CMD+Q are not possible at the moment.
This is all easier on the iPad when using touch, so hopefully Apple will make the keyboard and mouse experience as smooth before release.
Balancing the needs of all iPad users is a mammoth challenge, and while Apple has continually done a great job of meeting the needs of the basic iPad user, its most discerning customers have often had the felt artificially limited in what they could do with the iPad.
Stage Manager doesn’t remove all of the limitations of iPad software, but it removes a huge hurdle that many people thought the iPad would never reach, and sets the stage for what might come for the tablet in the future.