A report yesterday noted clues to a new ‘iPad multitasking mode’ in iOS 16, which appears to reference the ability to create arbitrarily sized windows rather than the limited, fixed options currently available.

We’ve been calling for a more powerful operating system on the iPad for years now, and have made a number of specific suggestions …

Background

Back in 2018, we called for an iPad-specific version of iOS, with three specific requests:

While the iPad Pro isn’t trying to be a Mac, it is a grown-up device and it needs a grown-up operating system. Not macOS, but rather a tailored version of iOS, designed to take advantage of the additional capabilities of the iPad. What some people have termed padOS.

I mean, just look at that Home screen, above. How ridiculous does that app spacing look on a screen the same size as a MacBook Air?

I don’t think it would require a massive overhaul to make an iPad-worthy version of iOS. Here’s what I’d consider the minimum acceptable spec for padOS – if you gave me these things, I’d be pretty happy:

  • A Home screen with a fully-flexible layout

  • Properly windowed apps

  • Support for a trackpad

Since then, Apple did, of course, give us iPadOS, and trackpad support, as well as a somewhat more flexible Home screen layout (though we’d still like to see a lot more here). We’ve also asked for more Quick Note style applets.

But the single biggest thing the iPad needs is properly windowed apps. Here’s what we asked for last year, to make iPad multitasking a less painful experience:

  • Have an arbitrary number of apps visible
  • Place two or more apps side-by-side
  • In any configuration I like (versus the fixed chunks on the iPad)
  • Stack apps vertically as well as horizontally
  • Have overlapping apps

I wasn’t optimistic at the time, and I’m still not expecting to get everything on that wish-list, but yesterday’s report does suggest that Apple may be making a very significant leap in that direction.

iPad multitasking report

Here’s what we know so far:

As first noted by Steve Troughton-Smith on Twitter, recent additions to the WebKit infrastructure on GitHub indicate support for a new “multitasking mode” that would allow for freely resizable windows on iPadOS. The updates to the WebKit GitHub indicate that iPadOS would add a new systemwide toggle for a “multitasking mode” that would enable this feature.

separate GitHub update from an Apple engineer corroborated these changes, again referring to updates to WebKit designed to improve compatibility with this so-called “multitasking mode.”

As we noted at the time, it’s hard to get too specific about what this may mean – but WebKit changes have, in the past, proved a reliable guide to later developments across the operating system more generally.

Freely resizeable windows would be a hugely liberating thing to have on the iPad, and would bring it significantly closer to the Mac experience.

Of course, that would cannibalise some Mac sales, but that’s been happening for years.

Once I’ve heard what friends want to use it for, my answer to the question, ‘Which laptop should I buy?’ has often been, ‘You shouldn’t: Buy an iPad plus Bluetooth keyboard instead.’ So far, at least, everyone who has taken this advice has been happy with the result.

Apple has many times said that it is never afraid to cannibalise its own products – Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, and Phil Schiller have all said that this is never a factor in its product development plans.

This is one report I really hope is true. What about you?

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.


Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news:

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel

About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

Ben Lovejoy's favorite gear