If you haven’t mastered iOS 9 and all its new tricks introduced in September, then it’s easy to find yourself using the iPad Pro as just a jumbo iPad Air or iPad mini. But new multitasking features like Picture in Picture, Split View, and Slide Over transform the iPad Pro experience and shine on the larger display if you know how to use them and which apps work. And while the iPad Pro doesn’t have 3D Touch like new iPhones, there’s a similar keyboard cursor gesture to now about. All that plus much more on unlocking the full potential of the iPad Pro below:
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Before we dive in, many of these tips will apply to all iPads with iOS 9 while other features are limited to iPad mini 4 (7.9″), iPad Air 2 (9.7″), and iPad Pro (12.9″). If you’re comfortable with the bigger display of the Pro, however, it is able to present the most amount of content at once when multitasking.
Newly available in iOS 9, iPads support three multitasking features: Split View, Slide Over, and Picture in Picture. Not all features are available on all iPads however, and each works best on iPad Pro unless the display size is a deal breaker for you.
None of the new multitasking features are obvious, but Picture in Picture is the easiest to stumble upon. Play a video in a supported app, then press the Home button to leave the app and your video shrinks into a mini player and doesn’t stop. There’s also a new “two boxes and an arrow” icon on video players that support PIP. Tap it to continue watching your video within that app, or leave the app and take your video with you.
The Picture in Picture window follows you from app to app until you disable it, only going out of focus when you double click the Home button or swipe up with four fingers to switch apps. You can move the PIP around the iPad’s display, although it’s limited to the four corners for now. Activating the on-screen keyboard will push the PIP up so you can type, and you can even tuck the PIP out of view temporarily by pushing it off screen.
Tap the PIP at any point to view playback progress along the bottom, switch back to full screen, play/pause the video, or close it. You can also pinch to shrink or expand the size of the PIP, and the iPad Pro supports the largest version of any iPads.
Picture in Picture works on iPad Pro, iPad Air or later, and iPad mini 2 or later. The only hitch here is that video apps have to opt-in to support it. Built-in apps like Safari, Videos for iTunes movies and TV shows, FaceTime, and Podcasts just work, but your own videos in Photos and music videos from Apple Music won’t. Third-party apps like HBO NOW and Hulu are my favorites to use for Picture in Picture. Netflix and YouTube haven’t added support yet, but YouPlayer and Go Picture in Picture enable YouTube PIP on iPads with different approaches.
Split View is where iPad Pro really shines, and Picture in Picture works on top here too. This feature lets you run two apps side by side, and some apps actually look better as columns rather than full width apps on the big screen (like Twitter for example). You likely won’t activate Split View by accident though because the mode is hidden behind a screen gesture.
To activate it, swipe left from just right of edge of the display. A scrolling list of app icon tiles lets you pick which app you want to access. Tap the one you want to enter a mode called Slide Over. This presents supported apps over any other app and allows you to quickly use the secondary app then dismiss it.
If you want to use two apps side by side and both apps support Split View, you’ll notice a divider that you can pull a little to make both apps active. Use the secondary app in a 1/5th column view, pull it to the center to split the screen in half, pull it all the way to the right to dismiss it, or all the way to the right to let the secondary app take over the whole display. This works in portrait mode with 2/3rd and 1/3rd apps as well.
There’s also a grab bar at the top of the secondary app on the right that lets you switch to other Split View apps. If you click the Home button and open another app that supports Split View, you’ll notice the app one the right remains.
Alternatively, you can use iOS’s four-finger gesture to swipe between apps to change the left app without losing focus of the right app. Apps that don’t support Split View like Settings and Music will take over the whole display, but swipe on to Safari or other supported apps and Split View will return. It’s a pretty quick transition with the swipe gesture.
Slide Over works with the same iPads as Picture in Picture: iPad Pro, iPad Air or later, and iPad mini 2 or later. Split View requires iPad mini 4, iPad Air 2, or iPad Pro.
Several readers have asked about the lack of 3D Touch or Force Touch on the iPad Pro, especially one shortcut on the iPhone 6s in particular. Using the latest iPhones, you can press firmly over the keyboard to enter a trackpad-like mode for text selection and moving the cursor. This actually came to all iPads with iOS 9 in September and works extremely well on the iPad Pro, but it’s not super obvious until you learn it. Apple offers this set of instructions:
Turn your keyboard into a trackpad. Touch and hold the keyboard with two fingers until it turns light gray. Drag around the keyboard to position the insertion point. Lift, then touch and hold with two fingers to reveal the drag points. Move your fingers to select text. Tap with two fingers to select a word. Double-tap with two fingers to select a sentence. Tap three times with two fingers to select a paragraph.
While using the new iPad Pro on-screen keyboard, you may also encounter an annoying shift bug when trying to access the symbols above the new half-height num row. Basically holding the shift key and tapping a number key to access the above characters only works in search fields and mid-sentence where auto-capitalization isn’t activated. There’s a workaround for now, and using it has made me much more efficient at typing on the iPad Pro.
Using a Bluetooth or Smart Connector keyboard instead? Here’s a tip: hold the Command (⌘) key for a few seconds in each of your favorite apps to see what keyboard shortcuts are supported. Not everything from the Mac is supported on iOS, but iOS 9 adds a lot of functionality here and developers of App Store apps are doing the same. I’ve enjoyed testing a Magic Keyboard with the iPad Pro. Both charge with Lightning and the function keys including screen brightness, volume, and media playback all work great.
The same thing works from the Home screen when using a physical keyboard. My most frequently used shortcuts? Command Shift H to return to the Home screen and Command Tab which activates an app switcher just like the Mac’s. You still need to touch the screen to complete a lot of tasks that could be tied to a keyboard shortcut, but these make using the iPad Pro and all iPads with a connected keyboard much faster.
And if you’re using your iPad Pro or any iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard and a setup more like a laptop, you may want to change the display’s auto-lock time to something longer. By default, iPad displays will turn off after 2 minutes without interaction, which helps preserve battery life and increase security if you use a passcode. When using iPad Pro with a keyboard, however, I’ve noticed that I’m finding that 2 minutes is too aggressive. I’m currently trying out 5 minutes, which should be pretty reasonable, but you may consider 10 or 15 minutes better options if you’re reading a lot of content on the larger display without interacting with it. Only choose Never if you want to manually turn off the display with the on/off switch or by closing a Smart Cover or similar magnetic case.
The iPad Pro’s 12.9-inch display makes it ideal for using as a sketchpad, and Apple Pencil’s reliable palm rejection and minimal latency take the frustration out of using a digital stylus. So once you get your hands on an Apple Pencil, what next? Apple Notes is a great start. It’s built-in, syncs with iCloud to your iPhone and Mac and the web, and its pencil and pen tools are very realistic. Try the pressure sensitivity with the pen tool, then try shading with the pencil tool like a real pencil. While you can use Apple Pencil to draw anywhere sketching is supported on iOS, a number of apps have updated specifically for Apple Pencil including Adobe Sketch, Paper by 53, Pixelmator, and Procreate to name a few. Evernote and Notability have also updated for Apple Pencil if Apple Notes isn’t for you. Each app has a different set of tools within, so I recommend collecting a few. Apple Mail also supports sketching with its attachment markup feature, though I wish it was more widely available.
Gaming on the big screen with real gaming controllers is one of the many appeals of the new Apple TV, but the iPad Pro definitely holds its own in this space too. The same MFi gaming controllers that you buy for Apple TV, like the SteelSeries Nimbus (hands-on here) and others, will work with iPad Pro so you can buy one and use it on both screens. Throw on a pair of Bluetooth headphones and you’ve got a very immersive and portable experience without all the wires. Asphalt 8, a racing title, has been my favorite to play so far, and your progress is saved from iPhone to iPad to Apple TV. Even better, the iPad can do Picture in Picture over many games including Asphalt 8, so you can catch up on The Daily Show while racing around a track at 200 mph like a real iPad pro.
The iPad Pro doesn’t change the overall layout of the larger Home screen — instead keeping the same 5×4 grid as the iPad mini and iPad Air and revealing more wallpaper. If you’re like me and using the iPad Pro primarily in landscape orientation for the first time, you may want to throw one or two extra apps or folders on your dock. Smaller iPads can also add up to 6 icons to the dock, but I’ve always keep just 4 to match the portrait layout. Portrait is secondary to me on iPad Pro, however, so I’m using 5 apps in the dock now to match the landscape layout.
And if you’re planning on replacing a laptop with the iPad Pro, knowing about Safari’s ability to upload various types of files will likely be very useful. Apps tend to be able to do more than websites on iPhones and iPads, but if you prefer to use Facebook’s website until they update their iPad Pro app to support the full screen resolution, you can still upload photos directly from your iPad just like from a MacBook. This actually works better than through the app in my experience as it uses the updated Photos picker.
Uploading isn’t limited to just photos and certainly not limited to Facebook. The same process works with more complicated websites like Dropbox using text files and PDFs, although other file types like Pages documents and Pixelmator projects weren’t supported. You can actually upload files from Dropbox through the iOS app to Dropbox on the web with Safari using this process, or access your photo library, iCloud Drive, or other supported services.
Have any other iPad Pro user tips to fully unlock the potential of the larger tablet? Please let us know in the comments below!