Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The State of iPadOS in 2024

Matthew Snyder (via Steve Troughton-Smith):

The iPad feels like it’s caught between being the best hardware Apple makes, alongside the most ignored software.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Some of the iPad angst isn’t that we have to wait ‘till WWDC to see if the software is improved.

It’s that little birdies have strongly hinted to us not to expect iPad to really go anywhere from here, that Vision Pro has sucked up all the oxygen inside Apple.

That iPad never really had the resources to fulfill its promises, and much of what was there has now been diverted.

Federico Viticci (Mastodon, Hacker News):

My goal with this story was threefold. First, as I’ve said multiple times, I love my iPad and want the platform to get better. If you care about something or someone, sometimes you have to tell them what’s wrong in order to improve and find a new path forward. I hope this story can serve as a reference for those with the power to steer iPadOS in a different direction in the future.

Second, lately I’ve seen some people argue on Mastodon and Threads that folks who criticize iPadOS do so because their ultimate goal is to have macOS on iPads, and I wanted to clarify this misunderstanding. While I’m on the record as thinking that a hybrid macOS/iPadOS environment would be terrific (I know, because I use it), that is not the point. The reality is that, regardless of whether macOS runs on iPads or not, iPadOS is the ideal OS for touch interactions. But it still gets many basic computing features wrong, and there is plenty of low-hanging fruit for Apple to pick. We don’t need to talk about macOS to cover these issues.


Despite Apple’s promise of desktop-class apps a couple of years ago, the company’s actual implementation has been erratic at best, with an inconsistent delivery of Mac-like features that haven’t done much to raise the status of iPad apps.


Out of all the apps I’ve mentioned so far, I want to shine a spotlight on Files. It’s a bad product that needs a fundamental rethink from a design and performance perspective.


iPadOS needs to gain support for executing long-running, complex tasks in the background. […] As a result, not only have these limitations fostered an environment in which third-party developers are actively discouraged from bringing true desktop-class experiences to iPad, but existing iPad apps still largely feel like blown-up versions of their iPhone counterparts.

Steve Troughton-Smith (Mastodon, Federico Viticci):

Apps should be able to create long-running tasks, or persistent tasks, that can use meaningful resources in the background as sub-processes.


Virtualization isn’t the answer to all of iPad’s problems, but it provides a runway to let Apple take as long as it wants to evolve iPad’s software while ending the ‘can this replace my computer?’ angst. It also immediately justifies the iPad Pro pricing and strips away the pointless ‘them vs us’ divide between iPad users and Mac users. If a $3,000 Mac can run iPad apps, why can’t a $3,000 iPad do the inverse of this?


Stage Manager was such a missed opportunity: it tried to bolt-on a windowing model onto iPadOS without providing developers any way to optimize for it, and has had virtually no meaningful improvements in two years. What I really want to see are APIs.


Massively improve the reliability of the Files app infrastructure, including for third-party file services. I should never have to reboot my iPad because an SMB share isn’t connecting properly, or a file service is showing stale, cached data. I should be able to reliably copy large files off USB mass storage without random disconnects or corruption.


So much high-end iPad software ends up hiding its advanced functionality behind mystery-meat multi-finger gestures, when really what would be helpful is a persistent menu bar at the top of the screen.

Jason Snell:

I’ve been stunned to see some reactions to our criticism of iPadOS this past week suggest that, somehow, people like Federico and myself just don’t “get” the iPad. We’ve spent years using the iPad and pushing what it can do. We get it all too well.

Matt Birchler:

The more I think about it, the more I’m squarely in the camp of people who want iPad-like hardware that runs macOS, and I’m not sorry for saying it.

Ged Maheux:

I really must be an outlier. I use my iPad Pro for real work all the time. I don’t feel particularly hampered by iPadOS. There are times when I’d like to easily do some things my Mac can do but in general I’ve been super happy with the iPad and its software.


Update (2024-05-16): Adam Tow:

As you can see, I’m still getting good use out of nearly all the iPads in the house, despite being reminded that buying tech is participating in planned obsolescence.


I would welcome the ability to have a windowing system that works with me rather than against me, along with system-level and app-level plug-ins to increase my productivity.


At the same time, I think of family members for whom a more complicated operating system on the iPad would leave them bewildered and confused. Multiple windows, background tasks, and file management are things they don’t want or at least want abstracted away from them. I’ve seen first-hand how they are tripped up by features like Split View, Slide Over, Stage Manager, Control Center, Home Screen widgets, Safari tabs, and various swiping gestures. For them, iPadOS needs to be even simpler and easier to use.

In order to be the most versatile device Apple has ever made, iPads need to cater to a broader category of people. It’s clear over the years that toeing this line between simplicity and power has been challenging for Apple. The company has to focus on multiple operating systems every year, and it can’t give its best to all of them. iPadOS has gotten the short end of the stick far more often than not.

See also: Mac Power Users.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Having read and watched through all the iPad coverage, it really seems like a lot of people are aligned on the top items where iPad falls down

  • The Files app infrastructure
  • The too-restrictive audio system
  • Background processing
  • Multiple user support

“Just put macOS on it” is the fallback for most criticism, because it’s hard to articulate just why iPadOS doesn’t cut it. And the “Where’s the Calculator?” discourse isn’t about a calculator app, it’s about the missing apps of the core OS

Steve Troughton-Smith:

I know people like to think iPadOS ‘forked’ from iOS when it was renamed a few years back, but it really didn’t. If you install Xcode, both iPhone and iPad simulators run out of the exact same OS root. It’s the same set of apps, the same SpringBoard — it just decides which features you get at runtime based on screen size and a feature map. That’s not a fork; the name essentially means nothing.

Jeff Johnson:

All I want is for my Macs not to be iPadified.

Update (2024-05-17): Joe Rosensteel:

The iPad Pro doesn’t need to run macOS, but the answer to why an iPad Pro can’t do something a Mac can do, shouldn’t be to carry two kinds of computers with the same M-series chips, with the same RAM, with the same storage, and do different things on each.

Francisco Tolmasky:

The iPad would be 1000% better if I could just buy comics on the Kindle directly instead of having to go to the website. Too bad insisting on 30% is clearly more important than that. But, yes, let's pretend that all the iPad's issues are around whether or not it would be confusing to users if Final Cut Pro used the GPU in the background. Because not having any clue how to buy a comic book in the Kindle app isn't confusing at all. iPadOS: THE KING of usability.

10 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

All I want is a centralized file system that isn’t a tooth pull to use. For me that would change everything.

From Federico’s article:
> Or maybe I should cover the floating keyboard “thingy”, that button that routinely gets in the way of text fields and other UI elements when you’re typing inside apps with a Magic Keyboard.

Yes! 100x yes! WTF was Apple thinking with that widget?

If the iPad were a country, it would be a petrostate: Amazing underlying resources but when you actually visit the place it’s entirely dysfunctional and makes you wonder how can it go on like this. You walk away shaking your head, wishing for an alternative universe where all those riches (the hardware) are put to good use.

Yea umm you can put any chip you want in it but if I need to keep the app in the foreground to allow it to perform some long running task so the OS doesn’t terminate it, the thing can only go so far.

Come on you can’t multitask on iPadOS like you can on macOS it’s not even close.

My iPad is the casual web browsing/movie watching/book reading device we all know and its place in my life is essentially unchanged from the iPad 1. I’m okay with that. I don’t really expect more I have my Mac for work. Mac is that last semi free Apple product we have left so I don’t even really want the iPad to converge with the Mac or replace it.

So, what people want is a MacBook air with touchscreen?

Federico compiled a thorough set of bug reports and feature requests that if addressed would only take iPadOS baby steps toward being MacOS. You should give the article a read.

I did.

The M-series iPads are clearly powerful enough, so why not let them run MacOS? I personally wouldn't want to use MacOS with touch input, but I would run MacOS on an iPad with the Magic Keyboard, it's cool hardware.

I'm still dreaming of a true iPhone Pro that turns into a usable desktop environment - MacOS - when docked as well.

What I would hate to see is the touch-ification or iOS-ification of MacOS to achieve those objectives though. 🤷‍♂️

I'm one of those who has used the iPad as a primary computer. In my case it wasn't a deliberate choice to "try using the iPad as my computer" which usually seems to end in failure. Rather, it was a gradual process that just sort of happened as I used the Mac less and the iPad more. The reason I bring that up is that that kind of unintentional switch is one in which a user gradually accommodates a different computing paradigm rather. The quick switch business is a recipe for frustration.

That said, I use the iPad as a real computer doing "real work" and have since around 2017. In my experience iPadOS took a big step forward in 2020 with the addition of full cursor support. Not long after Files began making big steps forward and then Stage Manager.

It's interesting to me that the Files app is still viewed by some as being broken or so basic as to be useless, etc. I did a [side-by-side comparison between Files and Finder](https://beardystarstuff.net/2023/02/16/exploring-the-files.html) in February 2023 with iPadOS 16. It seems to me that the discussion about this particular issue has a lot of detail left out.

Visually the Files app has, for the past couple of years, has looked like a touch optimized version of the Finder. Side-by-side, it's nearly identical with a few exceptions. I've found it easy to use and manage thousands of files in 100 or so folders. It's got many of the same keyboard shortcuts, keyboard navigation, etc as the Finder. It has very similar column, list and grid views of files as well as a customizable sidebar with a design and options very similar to the Finder.

In other words, in most of my day-to-day file management it feels like working with the Finder.

I think what many are complaining about is the somewhat persistent existence of sandboxing of files by the OS, a relic of the early days when Apple insisted that apps should be left to manage files and had not yet offered a distinct Files app. To this day it's not possible to set the default app for a file type, etc. That seems to be THE top complaint. And files stored in the specific, designated folders owned by apps will often only open in those apps. That said, many apps can fairly easily open files of other apps. For example I tend to bounce between three text editors but have them all set to open the same folder of files. So I can edit in Textastic then hop over to iA Writer to open and edit and publish the same files. I can open a Word file in the downloads folder in Pages or a pdf in Affinity Publisher. It's far more flexible today than it was in the early days.

There's no doubt that there is much room for improvement of iPadOS it seems to me that the tone of the discussion is far too negative, too stuck in the history of the limitations of the OS, not giving enough credit to the progress that has actually been made in the past 3-4 years. Year after year Apple has improved it and, has added two of the "Pro" apps most requested and yet the goal posts are always moving. And for all the progress that's been made people still write about it as though nothing has changed and pretend it's the same simple iPhone OS of 10 years ago.

I have no doubt that lots of people can do real work on a iPad, but as a software developer, trying to do my work on an iPad is an exercise in pain.

Frankly though, my real annoyance is having to bring both an iPad and MacBook Air with me on trips. The iPad is great for reading, but I also take a lot of photos (RAW+JPG). In theory the iPad should be great for sorting/editing my photos too, but it's too limited. Storage is at a premium. Lightroom on the iPad is cloud-based (barf). I thought maybe I could work with my photos on an iPad using an external SSD, but neither Photos nor Lightroom support that.

And of course, if I want to do any tech-related tinkering while I'm away, see my first paragraph.

I don't think running MacOS on an iPad is ideal, but at least it would let me pack lighter.

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