We’ve been saying it for years: The iPad is a phenomenally powerful and flexible piece of hardware that’s being held back by iPadOS. In 2019, Apple officially split iOS and iPadOS, signaling that the tablet’s software would grow in its own direction, and we’ve been waiting for that to bear fruit ever since. With iPadOS 16, we’re getting the first real big step in that direction.
There are dozens of new features big and small, but these are the four biggest things that could change the way you use your iPad. Remember, the iPad also got many of the new features found in iOS such as editing iMessages, Live Text updates, iCloud Shared Photo Library, and so on. But these are the four features that will change the way you use your iPad.
iPad multitasking is kind of a mess. There’s split view and slide over and resizable views (except when they’re not) and you can’t see the dock, except when you can… and it’s all enabled with gestures that causal users can’t seem to figure out.
iPadOS 16 doesn’t fix this mess, but it does add a new mode that brings us closer to real multitasking on the iPad. It’s called Stage Manager and it’s only available on iPads with an A12X, A12Z, M1 or M2 processor (the latest iPad Air and recent iPad Pros).
You simply drag up on the lower-right corner of the screen to resize the current app into a floating window, showing the dock and other recent apps along the left edge. Apps can overlap, you can drag and drop between them, and you can even create groups of apps for your different tasks. This works with new full external display support, allowing you to put up to four apps on your iPad and four more apps on the external display. (This feature is coming soon and is limited to M1 iPads.)
It’s still very much a work in progress, but it’s an important building block for turning the iPad into a more powerful productivity device.
Collaborative document editing
Today, when you share a document with the Share sheet with someone, you’re really only sending them a copy. With iOS 16, you’re able to choose between that or “Collaborate,” which will send a link via Messages to one or more people that provides editing of those documents between everyone in the Messages conversation. When you send a share this way from a Messages group, everyone is automatically added, and the Messages thread is updated whenever someone makes a change.
You can even kick off a FaceTime call with the whole collaboration group with just a couple of taps. This is going to work with most of Apple’s apps—Files, Keynote, Numbers, Pages, Notes, Reminders, and Safari to start—and third-party developers will be able to tap into this feature as well with a new API.
This is coming to iOS and macOS as well, but Apple highlighted it as an iPadOS feature, and for good reason–this sort of collaborative on-the-go productivity is the kind of thing tablets are made for.
Weather comes to iPad
We know it’s just one app, but we’ve been bugging Apple about this for years: The iPad has had a Weather widget just like the one on iPhone, but it just opens a web page to a third-party weather site when you tap on it. With iOS 16, the iPad finally gets its own dedicated Weather app, reconfigured for the larger display.
But there’s more than that. As predicted back when Apple purchased Dark Sky in 2020, it’s making a new WeatherKit framework that lets developers add weather data into their own apps too. Now, where is Calculator? It looks like we’ll need to wait for iOS 17 for that.
Apps on the iPad have always had more robust interfaces than their iPhone counterparts, but they’re still stymied by the confines of iOS. No more: iOS 16 brings support for desktop-class apps like the ones on our Macs and it’s going to make a huge difference in how we use our tablets.
Last week, Apple announced that DaVinci Resolve is coming to the M1 and M2 iPad Pro, but it’s not just high-end productivity apps that will take advantage of the new feature. Developers will now have access to customizable toolbars and menus, system-wide find and replace, consistent undo, and more control over file names in Files. Add in the addition of a set of function keys to the latest iPad keyboard and we’re getting very close to a time when the iPad will actually be considered a Mac replacement.
It’ll take some time for developers to update their apps with the new tools—Resolve isn’t arriving until later in 2022—but iOS 16 lays the groundwork for the iPad to become the powerful productivity tool we always wanted it to be. Now if Apple would just bring us Final Cut Pro.