The iPad Pro

I've always loved iPads, from the moment His Steveness first announced it. At the time I used to do web design and the symbolism of "handing a website over to the client" captured me. I was building something intangible but to demo it I could hand over a physical object, perfectly designed for showing off my work, in a way that a laptop just wasn't.

When I was working at EmberAds, my iPad became my primary "development" machine - sort of. I would SSH into a Linux box and use vim for editing. And as most of my work was back-end, this was great.

But as I moved back to more front-end work the iPad became unsuitable - although I still do the majority of my dev work on a remote Linux server. Quickly switching between a terminal window, an editor and a browser is just a pain on the iPad, plus there was no web inspector and debug console on iOS browsers. So I moved between various Macs and Linux boxes (with the Linux server giving me access to my code from anywhere plus the capacity to run a load of docker containers and hefty rails apps without breaking a sweat)

That last problem - the web inspector - has been solved. I use Inspect, a slightly clunky browser that includes a JavaScript console and HYML/CSS inspector.

And, when Apple announced Stage Manager I thought the first problem - task switching - was solved too. So much so that I actually went out and rented an M1 iPad Pro just so I could use it (I only had an iPad mini at the time).

Unfortunately, not only is Stage Manager really buggy, but I just don't understand it. I get that iPad apps have size constraints, I get that memory is limited, and used differently to MacOS. But, probably my all time favourite computer was my 12" Powerbook G4 - the screen was smaller, it only had 512Mb of RAM, but I could multi-task and multi-window easily on that thing.

But Stage Manager?

When it's switched on why do apps open separately, so you have to take the extra step of organising them. What's the point of the little piles on the left hand side, when you've got the Dock as well? It kind of makes sense if you think of it as a replacement for virtual desktops (Spaces on a Mac), but (and I'm writing this using Stage Manager on my Mac, just to prove the point), why keep Spaces around when it's switched on then?

(I did see someone suggest that maybe Stage Manager is laying the groundwork for Apple's rumoured headset - but if there's one thing Apple has been good at over the years, it's been about fitting the user-interface to the device at hand, not trying to make everything work the same everywhere).

What I would have liked is a more flexible version of Split View. I use tmux when I'm working and I can split a single terminal window almost any way I want. Normally I have a horizontal split, so I have two wide panes open. But I can change that into three vertical, four equal panes, three narrow ones across the top and one wide one along the bottom - and they can all be resized to whatever makes sense for my task at hand. Coupled with tmux's "windows", I've effectively got virtual desktops and flexible split view in one. Something like that would work really well on an iPad.

The alternative that I can see is much more ambitious. Rebuild iPadOS so it's actually based on macOS. I don't mean giving it everything macOS can do - although a full local terminal and the ability to run Docker containers would be very useful for me. But an M1 Mac already runs on the same chipset as an iPad and it can run iPad apps. Plus Apple's own Mac apps are sharing more and more code (even the same build in some cases) with the iPad and iPhone variants. So a new iPadOS that uses macOS's window server and memory management, but only runs iPad apps would give us proper windowing and multi-tasking without losing any of the things that make an iPad great.

Speaking of which, one of the things that makes an iPad great is its simplicity.

Who is this multi-tasking/multi-windowing actually for?

People like me, definitely, who want to use the iPad to get things done, and for whom getting things done means using, viewing and switching between multiple apps many times every few minutes.

But for most people, the point of an iPad is that it's a computer which is incredibly simple - it doesn't go wrong, it doesn't get viruses, it's easy to understand.

So, it sounds like this should be a "pro" feature.

However, given that the iPad lineup is a total mess - what's the difference between the iPad Air and the 11" Pro (apart from TouchID/FaceID - where FaceID is so superior for the way iPads are used) - I can't see how Apple can reasonably distinguish between those types of usage. Which is why they had to backtrack on which iPads could even run Stage Manager. But that then means that those users who choose an iPad for its simplicity will be disappointed, and currently, those of us who want one to get things done are also disappointed.

The worst of both worlds.

Rahoul Baruah

Rahoul Baruah

Rubyist since 1.8.6. Freelancer since 2007, dedicated to building incredible, low-cost, bespoke software for tiny businesses. Also CTO at Collabor8Online.
Leeds, England