The Controversy Around Apple's Coolest New iPadOS Feature


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The Controversy Around Apple's Coolest New iPadOS Feature
By Jason Aten • Issue #51 • View online
When Apple introduced the M1 iPad Pro, it begged the question: Why would Apple put the same processor that comes in a MacBook Air, into an iPad if it isn’t going to do more? Surely, the M1 is overkill for a tablet. It’s way more powerful than what is required for any of the things you can do on an iPad. 

Image courtesy Apple, Inc.
Image courtesy Apple, Inc.
Some people even thought Apple might be getting ready to let the iPad Pro run macOS. Then, Apple put the M1 in the 2022 iPad Air, which is kind of wild when you consider the iPad Air is the middle-of-the-line iPad, and it’s sporting the same internals as the world’s most popular laptop. At a minimum, an iPad with the M1 should be able to do more Mac-like things, like, perhaps, real multitasking.
Finally, at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) earlier this month, Apple delivered just that. Well, sort of.
It wasn’t what a lot of people were asking for–to let the iPad Pro run macOS. Instead, Apple released what it calls Stage Manager in iPadOS 16, which is sort of an interesting in-between version of multitasking with a side shelf containing four different apps or groups of apps.
Stage Manager lets you have up to four apps per “stage,” and you can adjust the size of different apps–they can even overlap. You can also connect an external monitor, and instead of mirroring the iPad’s display, you can have four more apps active. 
Image courtesy Apple, Inc.
Image courtesy Apple, Inc.
There’s just one catch–it only works on iPads with an M1. That means if you have anything other than a 2021 iPad Pro, or a 2022 iPad Air, you’re out of luck. You can imagine anyone who bought an iPad Pro in 2018 or 2020, both of which are very capable devices, might be a bit mad.
Many of them have expressed their frustration, claiming Apple is wrong for limiting the most requested feature on the iPad to devices sold in the last year. Except, it seems strange now that Apple is finally adding features that require the M1, that people are complaining that the M1 iPads can do what older models can’t. 
I’m not arguing that people who have older iPads–especially iPad Pros that are only a few years old–shouldn’t want them to continue to do all the things. That’s only natural when you spend a lot of money on something. 
In this case, however, it makes sense that Apple is limiting Stage Manager to devices it feels are capable of delivering a good experience to users. There’s just no scenario where Apple is going to drop a feature on users that isn’t supported by the device they are using. That’s not how Apple does things because it genuinely cares about the experience of its users. 
Apple has said that the reason only M1 iPads are getting Stage Manager is that the feature requires several things that are only available on M1, like more memory and fast virtual memory swap. Some people online have disputed whether this is actually true, but there’s a good reason to take Apple at its word.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software, explained it this way:
Building to M1 was critical as well. From the start, the iPad has always maintained this extremely high standard for responsiveness and interactivity. That directness of interaction in that every app can respond to every touch instantaneously as if you are touching the real thing underneath the screen. And I think it’s hard sometimes for people to appreciate the technical constraints involved in achieving that. 
And as you add multiple apps into play, and large amounts of screen real estate, you have to make sure that any one of those apps can respond instantaneously to touch in a way that you don’t have that expectation with a desktop app. Indirect manipulation gives you some slack there, so it’s a different set of constraints. 
If you’ve ever used a tablet from any company that isn’t Apple, you know Federighi is right. There is no comparison between the experience of using an iPad, and that of anything else. Part of that is because of the hardware, but a large part is because Android on a tablet is just bad. 
The users who claim Apple should have enabled the feature on older devices see the move as something more cynical. To them, it seemed as though Apple is clearly trying to force users to upgrade to the latest hardware in order to take advantage of the newest features.
Except, that’s not how Apple usually operates. Apple wants to extend future capabilities as far back as they can, when they can provide the very best experience. If they can’t, the company would rather hold back a feature altogether rather than deliver something that isn’t good. 
Apple did something similar with its transition from Intel processors in the Mac, to Apple Silicon. The M1-powered Macs had features that Intel computers it was still selling at the time couldn’t do.
That’s not nefarious. It’s quite the opposite really. It was doing exactly what it said it would do when it announced the transition away from Intel in the first place–build the devices it had wanted to build, but couldn’t with the previous limitations.
The same thing is true here. Putting the M1 in an iPad is total overkill if it’s not going to be more capable than the devices it replaces. Sure, that means there are some iPads that are only a few years old that seem like they should be able to 
There is some dispute as to whether the limitation is technical, but I think it’s reasonable to take Apple at its word. The company has a history of adding as much value to older devices through software updates, that it wouldn’t make any sense to hold out on something users have asked for literally for years. Apple wants happy iPad users. Delivering less than a good experience doesn’t make anyone happy. 
About the New MacBook Air
Image courtesy Apple, Inc.
Image courtesy Apple, Inc.
The MacBook Air is, basically, the most popular laptop Apple (or anyone) has ever sold. It’s also the most recognizable. Its tapered, wedge-shaped design made it unmistakable in coffee shops, college classrooms, airplanes, and anywhere else people are found using lightweight, yet capable laptops. We have two of them in our house. 
This year, Apple made a new one, and it’s very different from the old one. To say that it’s been redesigned is an understatement. Gone is the tapered front, along with the oversized bezel at the top of the display. From a design perspective, the new MacBook Air looks quite a bit like the most recent MacBook Pro.
That’s not entirely a bad thing. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros are amazing. They are beautifully-designed laptops that look and perform exactly as a professional laptop should.
The MacBook Air, on the other hand, was meant to look and be sleek and lightweight. Its design was part optical illusion, part function. The new one is certainly thin, and it manages to be even lighter, but it doesn’t look like an “Air.”
I’m not suggesting that the wedge-shaped design is what makes an Air an Air. Generally, Air means thin, lightweight, and lots of battery life. The wedge-shaped design has always been the visual cue that the laptop you’re looking at fits those criteria. 
We have, in our home, a 14-inch MacBook Pro and an M1 MacBook Air. Both are fantastic machines. But, there is no chance you would confuse one for the other. Their design language is very different, and that’s a good thing. 
That’s not true of the new version. I’d bet most people would mistake it for a MacBook Pro if you didn’t tell them it was an Air. Then, when you tell them, I’d be willing to bet a lot of them would be a little confused. 
Look, I think there’s a good chance this laptop will be amazing. About the previous version, powered by the two-year-old M1, I wrote that its performance was so good it was just showing off. I haven’t had a chance to review an M2 MacBook Air, but I expect it to be noticeably better, even if it isn’t by the same monumental leap the M1 made over its Intel predecessors. That’s not the point. 
The MacBook Air is easily one of the most iconic Macs that Apple has ever sold. It’s certainly its most popular. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it is the industrial design standard by which every laptop from the last 10 years is measured. Walk into a Best Buy and pick up any laptop that isn’t specifically designed for gaming, and it was inspired–at least, in part–by the MacBook Air.
Sure, the new display–which now features the notch from the Pro–is a big improvement. It’s literally bigger, for one. It’s also brighter. The new Air also comes in new colors, which is, well, fine. There’s a difference, however, between improving a design over time, and abandoning what made it iconic in the first place.
My point is that sometimes it’s tempting to mistake new for better. Sometimes it’s easy to think that making something new means it has to be different. I get it. If something stays the same for too long, it’s hard not to think of it as stale or old. 
Certainly, the M2 means that Apple could make different decisions about the product it powers. It’s more efficient and powerful than what it replaces, meaning that Apple isn’t constrained by the design decisions it made in the past. It means Apple can completely redesign a product based on what is possible with the new chip.
I’m sure Apple also knows that new designs sell. That’s true with the iPhone–people want the newest model because it looks new. I’m sure it’s also true with Macs. New means trendy and cool. If you buy the new design, everyone will be able to tell because it looks different. It looks new.
I will say, however, that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In this case, if you buy the new MacBook Air, everyone will be able to tell you bought something new. Just don’t be surprised if they won’t be able to tell it’s a MacBook Air. 
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