Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Stage Manager’s Utility

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I do feel Stage Manager has a bit of an identity crisis. Who is it for? The long tail of users? It’s way too confusing and unpredictable, harder than a desktop. And for pro users? It’s far too rigid and opinionated, meddling.

I’m not sure that it’s harder than a desktop. Stage Manager on the Mac is not for me, but it seems like a useful feature for people who don’t want to manage windows but also don’t want everything full-screen.

I think I might actually use it on iPadOS, when I have an iPad that supports it. It seems less confusing than the current iPad multitasking system when multiple windows are involved.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Related: where on earth is a system-level feature for tabbed windowing? That’s the kind of thing that should have been introduced several steps earlier than resizable, overlapping windows on iPad 👀

Dan Grover:

It’s nice macOS is getting attention, but demos seem to revolve around solving problems of imaginary person that uses only native, Apple-produced apps. Stage Manager does nothing for my 79 browser tabs I use to get work done.

Typical pro macOS user probably has things spread across a zillion Google Docs, Slack channels, various cloud services.


Update (2022-06-16): Steve Troughton-Smith:

I don’t think Apple has figured out the nouns & verbs of the important elements of multi-window multitasking — what is an ‘app’, ‘window’, where does it live? Where does it go when I put it away? iPadOS is all just a soup of recent tasks that may be running, cached, or ghosts

Jack Wellborn:

The lack of names suggests to me that Stage Manager is not conceptually complete and incomplete concepts is how iPadOS multitasking got to where it is today. Here’s what I wrote about iPad multitasking back in January[…]

Update (2022-06-24): Steve Troughton-Smith:

As a developer trying to implement well-thought-out multiwindowing in my iPadOS apps, it’s super frustrating that Apple is letting window management balloon into a mess for users without giving developers the tools to manage windows and the UX properly at the other end

Simple one: I wanted to put the list of open windows in the app’s menu bar, like you might on macOS. Except iOS only allows menu bar items that map a key command to a selector — you can’t just have arbitrary menu items. And no two commands can have a blank shortcut

I looked into what Mail is doing to show the window list/shelf via the button in its toolbar, and it’s all private entitlements and SpringBoardServices SPI. Not fair 😜 Third party apps need the same kind of UX

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Honestly I feel iPad is still a good 2 or 3 OS releases away from getting the basics of windowing right, and I kinda don’t want to even try supporting it until they’ve figured it out. I think trying to compensate for this now, as a developer, is going to be a waste of a summer.

Guilherme Rambo:

Feels like in trying so hard to do something different than the traditional windowing model from computer GUIs, they somehow ended up with something that’s more complicated, for both people to use and for us to implement.

Parker Ortolani:

After more than a week of using stage manager on iPad, I’ve come to the conclusion that as great as it is to have for certain use cases (especially on monitors) legacy split view and slide over are still more seamless and intuitive.

Update (2022-06-30): Jack Wellborn:

The other and much more egregious problem is how the main components that make up Stage Manager simply don’t have names. This is nothing new to iPadOS.


Stage Manager introduces a hierarchy that I hope Apple leans into. Windows belong to sets and sets belong to stages. Given this hierarchy, I don’t think command+tab should switch between apps because, just like with existing multitasking, an app switcher can’t work when an app is divided across multiple stages. Instead, I think command+tab should switch between sets and command+` should switch between windows in the set that is currently on stage.

Update (2022-08-02): Steve Troughton-Smith:

I genuinely don’t think iPad Stage Manager is salvageable in its current form. It’s layered on ton of behaviors that interact in bizarre, inconsistent & unpredictable ways, hidden behind mystery gestures, unmarked tap targets, screen regions. Hidden destructive actions everywhere.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

When you think about it, it’s kinda hard to believe that Apple introduced Stage Manager windowing on iPad without giving developers a single new API to tailor their apps for it. It even actively ignores all the API that Apple built for Catalyst to allow for great windowing support.

Update (2022-08-05): Steve Troughton-Smith:

What Stage Manager does to apps that specifically flag themselves as needing fullscreen is bonkers. It forcibly windows them and scales them down

Federico Viticci:

Here’s one of the many Stage Manager for iPad issues that makes it really hard to work with windows right now:

I have a link in Trello and an active Safari window in the same workspace.

If I tap the link, you’d expect it to open in that Safari window in the same set, right?

Update (2022-09-26): Sami Fathi (via Francisco Tolmasky):

Federico Viticci, the founder and editor in chief of MacStories and a prominent member of the Apple community, outlined his frustration with Stage Manager in a Twitter thread earlier this week. Viticci says that design decisions built into Stage Manager are “fundamentally misguided,” arguing that the feature is unstable, hard to use, and has user interface glitches across the experience.

“If Stage Manager is the future of iPadOS for pro users, I hope Apple understands that it can’t be rushed. We waited years for this; might as well get it in Spring 2023,” Viticci says, suggesting Apple delay Stage Manager’s release entirely and rethink its approach.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Two apps onscreen — you’d think the currently active one (check the three dots at the top) would be the one casting the shadow on the other? Nope! Shadow is cast by whichever you resized last, no idea why. The app you interact with could always be in shadow, like it or not

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I can’t use Stage Manager for five minutes without it falling apart in some new and novel way. At this point, I think it needs to taken out back and Old Yeller’d. Tear it all down and come back next year, without a marketing name, and without a device compatibility matrix

I am strongly in favor of iPad gaining some manner of windowing, and I don’t want it to be macOS on an iPad. But doing everything different, and worse, just because, is no way forward for the platform. Throwing new ideas at the wall and destroying the UX at our expense?

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Bryan Pietrzak

From talking with some windows using friends they are curious - most of them use Macs with windows/apps in full screen mode most of the time. They are used to the idea of single window mode.

I think people with no history on the Mac might like Stage Manager. We'll see. I started with System 6 and admit I'm mildly curious. I know my current "system" of managing windows is....insane and only makes sense to me, anyone watching me would be baffled I'm sure. But I suspect that'd be true watching any long time mac user - we all manage apps and windows slightly differently.

The entire thing is very confusing to folks new to the platform

I don’t really agree with Steve and Dan (whom you quoted). Many of us do NOT have 79 browser tabs and a zillion google docs, and we like things to be highly organized on our Macs. Right now I use spaces, but having Stage Manager to switch between them will be a welcome improvement. And it is quite possible to have multiple windows in your browser, each with a certain number of tabs, then each window can be in its own workspace along with windows from other apps that relate to those tabs.

As for Stage Manager capabilities on iPad, I think it’s too early to tell.

My desktop is chaos, I don't like giving apps in full screen, and I've never taken the time to get efficient in spaces.

I'm thinking stage manager might be really good for me.

I do have 97 tabs in a few dozen browser windows though... 😰

The real solution needed for organising Spaces, is for them to be properly task-specific. Each Space should effectively feel like using a separate computer or user-account - In this space is my Web design toolset, In this space is my DTP toolset, both might use photoshop, but the UI might be set up with different palette settings, that are specific to that space.

Currently, it's either the App in one space, or the App in all spaces, but it's the one instance. Spaces has always felt like Virtual Desktops made by someone who saw Virtual Desktops, but didn't use them.

I usually have a bunch of terminal windows and an Emacs window open for each project. I have tried stage manager in the macOS beta and it is just what I need for ordering windows per project. I now use spaces, but it’s too easy to make them messy. Though stage manager desperately needs some keyboard shortcuts.

@Someone Yes, and since the API for Spaces is so limited, there’s no way for a third-party app or utility to even get something as basic as window restoration right.

I generally think that he's right, it should have been integrated into a rework of the windowing system. Something that integrated resizable windows by treating each window as living in a 'space'/app group and something like mission control to see all windows in an app group (would solve the problem of having to make sure some part of all windows is visible).
They wanted to keep it separate and I think that is the biggest mistake of the system. The mode switching is a bad UX...

As a musician, I'm impressed by the Stage Manager on iPad. Having the possibility to quickly switch from one instrument to another to a set of effects is impressive. My understanding is that Apple aimed for high-speed multitasking interactions. The iPad ergonomic in portrait mode is perfect. You tap with your left-hand thumb and get a new instrument instantly while your right hand continues playing.

For Mac, it's indeed strange. Clicking to apps on the side is an arguable experience versus the dock or Cmd-Tab.

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