How to multitask on the iPad: Split View, Slide Over, and more

Apple allows for a lot of multitasking options on its tablet, but it’s not always clear how to use them. We’re here to fix that.

ipad multitasking hero
Leif Johnson/IDG

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Apple has done a lot over the last couple of years to make the iPad more attractive as a laptop replacement, and many of those improvements center on multitasking. That’s great, but the problem is figuring out how to use all these multitasking tricks.

We’re here to help. Below, we’ll show you all the multitasking features that work with most current iPads as of iPadOS 13.4, ranging from relatively familiar concepts like Split View and Slide Over to trickier features like Picture in Picture. Once you learn them all, Apple’s tablet can feel like a vastly different device.

Keep in mind that not every app supports all these features (although plenty do). In other words, if you’re having trouble, say, getting an app to work in Split View, that may simply be because the app doesn’t support it.

How to use Split View multitasking

Split View multitasking—or “split-screen,” as you’ll often hear it called—is probably the most common means of multitasking on the iPad, as it allows you to view two apps side-by-side. It doesn’t work with every app, and you can only use it with apps you have in the Dock: either in the “permanent” library on the left side or in the “recently” opened section on the right. Fortunately, you can add many apps to the Dock now by dragging down their icons from the home screen and the following pages of apps.

In some cases, you can even open two windows from the same app with Split View. Unfortunately, you generally won’t know if this works without experimenting. Here’s how Split View works.

  1. First, open any app. This app doesn’t have to be on the Dock to begin with, although if it’s already open, it’s going to end up appearing on the right side of the Dock anyway.

  2. Make your iPad’s Dock appear by slowly swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

  3. Once the Dock appears, press down on the app’s icon and hold your finger there for a fraction of a second. Then drag the little preview window that appears over to either the far right or left side of the screen. If you’ve done this properly, the existing app will scootch over to make room for the new one.

  4. Drop the new app in place. You should then see the two apps side by side.

split view multitasking ipados Leif Johnson/IDG

In this screenshot—which corresponds with Step 3—I’m about to open Ulysses in Split View to the right of Pages. I know it will work because of the blurred interface and the way that Pages has moved over to the left.

To adjust the sizes of the windows in Split View, press your finger on the vertical thin gray line between the windows and move it to the right or left as desired.

To replace one of the apps in Split View with another app, simply repeat the steps above, but remember to drag the new app into the middle of the window for the app you want to replace.

How to close Split View

In the middle of the Split View interface, you’ll see a divider that lets you adjust the sizes of the app windows. Put your finger on the thin gray line in the middle of the divider and push it toward the app you want to close—and keep pushing it off the screen until the app vanishes.

ipados close split view Leif Johnson/IDG

In this screenshot, I want to close Safari in Split View, so I’m about to pull the divider all the way to the right.

How to use Slide Over

Slide Over lets you open some apps in a narrow sliver of a window that floats on the left or right side of your screen. It’s a little tricky to use, and it frequently ends up covering up key parts of whatever you’re watching or reading in the app behind it. Still, it’s a nice option to have, especially for apps like Music that you might just want to glance at quickly. Here’s how to use it.

  1. First, make sure you already have at least one app open. For the screenshots below, I’ve used Pages.

  2. Make the iPad dock appear by slowly swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Don’t do this too quickly, or you might accidentally go to the Home screen.

  3. Find the app you want to use with Slide Over on your dock. Press and hold the app’s icon for a fraction of a second, and then gently pull it up to general middle of your iPad’s display. Don’t go too far to the right or left, or you’ll activate Split View. (Also, don’t press it for too long, or you’ll make the app’s Extra Actions menu pop up.)

slide over ipad multitasking Leif Johnson/IDG

In this shot, which corresponds to Step 3, I’m opening the Music app in Slide Over while looking at Apple’s site in Safari. I want the Slide Over window to appear on the right, so I’ve pulled it over there without going too far.

The app should immediately appear in a Slide Over window, either to the left or right of the screen, depending on which direction you trended toward as you pulled it from the dock.

To move a Slide Over window to a different side of the screen, place your finger on the thin gray horizontal line at the top of a Slide Over window and pull the window to the left or right.

To make a Slide Over window disappear, hold your finger on the thin gray line and swipe it toward the nearest edge of the screen. You can make the same Slide Over window reappear by swiping away from the edge toward the middle of the screen roughly in the same spot where the thin gray line was before you removed it.

You can also convert a Slide Over window into a Split View window by pressing down on the thin gray line and then dragging the window to either lower corner of the screen. To make a Split View window go back to being a Slide Over panel, press the thin gray line and then drag the app window to the middle of the app that’s on the other side of the screen.

How to multitask with three apps with Slide Over

You can also use Slide Over to multitask with three apps at once by opening two apps in Split View and then opening the third app with Slide Over. This is especially useful for apps like Music, which don’t have to be on the screen the whole time for reference.

To do this, first open two apps at once with Split View. Then drag the new app directly over the thin gray line in the middle of the divider for the two apps. Release your finger, and the third app will appear in a Slide Over window.

ipad multitasking three apps Leif Johnson/IDG

You’ll know the third app is going to make a Slide Over window if the preview before you release your finger looks like this. If it’s wider, it’s just going to replace one of the Split View windows.

How to use drag-and-drop for iPad multitasking

Features like Split View and Slide Over aren’t just useful for comparing notes and the like: You can also use them to share information between two apps. This works with text, images files, and all kinds of other options, and in many cases it saves a little bit of time compared to copying and pasting. For the purposes of this how-to, I’ll use text as an example.

  1. Open two apps side by side in Split View or Slide Over. For this how-to, I’ve used two word processing apps: Pages and Google Docs.

  2. Select a snippet of text from one app.

  3. Hold your finger on that selection and then drag it over to the app on the other side.

  4. Release your finger. The text should then appear in the other app.

drag and drop ipados Leif Johnson/IDG

This screenshot is essentially Step 3 in action.

How to use the App Switcher to see all your apps at once

The App Switcher allows you to easily switch between all other open apps, roughly like Exposé on the Mac. To use it, swipe up from the bottom of the screen, but—while still holding your finger down—stop somewhere around the middle of the screen. Then lift your finger. You should then see previews of all the apps you have open, and you can sift through them by swiping to the left or right. Press the preview of the app you want, and the app should open.

If you’re on an iPad that still has a Home button, you can also just press the Home button twice to make the App Switcher appear. Also, it’s tricky, but you can also make the App Switcher appear by putting four or five fingertips on the iPad’s screen and beginning to pinch them together. Release them when the App Switcher appears. Don’t pinch all the way, though, as you’ll just make the Home screen appear.

Note that the App Switcher will also show you which apps are currently paired with other apps through Split View. This allows the App Switcher to be a handy way of working with other apps without losing your Split View pairing.

app switcher ipados Leif Johnson/IDG

In this preview, you can see that Ulysses and Safari are paired in Split View.

How to swipe between all open apps in full-screen mode

You can also just swipe through every open app while each app is in full-screen mode by placing four fingertips on the screen and then swiping left or right. As we saw above, you can also change to the App Switcher proper by pinching those four fingers together.

How to use Picture-in-Picture mode

Picture-in-Picture mode lets you keep watching a video or a FaceTime call in a small window even when you’re using another multitasking feature like Split View. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with every app, and that includes popular ones like YouTube. It’s relatively simple to use, but the feature’s existence isn’t terribly obvious. Here’s how to use it.

  1. When watching a video or FaceTime call, you should see an icon that looks like two rectangles of different sizes. Press this icon.

  2. The video should immediately shrink down to a corner of the screen.

You can move the Picture-in-Picture display to another part of the screen simply by dragging it around—and you can also swipe it off the screen, if necessary. You can also make a Picture-in-Picture window go back to full screen by pressing the icon with the two rectangles again.

ipados picture in picture Apple

Picture-in-Picture mode on an iPad.

How to use a Magic Trackpad for extra multitasking options

Apple enhanced the iPad multitasking experience by introducing support for its Magic Trackpad. I recommend looking at our full how-to for more information, as many of the gestures are the same—you’re just making them on the trackpad instead of the screen.

There are some differences, though. For example, if you want to swipe through all the open apps without using the App Switcher, you need to use three fingers on the trackpad and swipe left or right. To perform the same action on the iPad screen itself, as we’ve seen, you need to use four fingers.

How to turn off Split View, Slide Over, and gestures

I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this, as it’s hard enough to turn on the above features even intentionally, much less accidentally. But Apple gives you the option, anyway.

To do so, go to the Settings app, press Home Screen & Dock in the panel on the left, and then press Multitasking. From there, you can toggle off Allow Multiple Apps (i.e., Split View and Slide Over), Picture-in-Picture, and gestures.

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