With Stage Manager, Apple resizes the iPad's workflow.

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Source: Apple

It was initially a big success because of its user-friendly design and single-application concentration, but the iPad had become a little boring for some who want more depth. One of the world's most powerful medium-format computers, the gap between its capabilities and the types of work it accepts has been widening...

Recent significant iPad upgrades from Apple have focused on bringing the gadget out of its protracted gestation phase and placing it in a world with more linguistic similarities to the Mac. This week's iPadOS 16 preview was no different. iPadOS 15's work in this area is being continued by several new features, including Stage Manager, Desktop Class Apps, and improvements to Continuity.

Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, gave me a quick tour of the new iPad's multitasking capabilities last week. The timing, execution, and responses to these announcements were discussed...

Multitasking on the iPad has undergone a significant overhaul this year, with Stage Manager at its heart. In a system-managed tile creation, the functionality displays up to four groups of applications. Allowing you to rapidly switch between workspaces, the groups are arranged on the left. A more visible and permanent version of Spaces is the Mac feature that enables numerous desktops to hover off to the edges of your screen on macOS. This is understandable, considering it isn't well known and lacks visual clues to those unfamiliar with the Mission Control panel.

From a design standpoint, we wanted to build from the ground up on the iPad's unique promise rather than merely copying from other systems based on entirely different core concepts. As a result, Federighi believes Stage Manager is a crucial step along that evolutionary path.

According to Federighi, the concept of enabling a single window to take center stage on the screen has a long history at Apple. In the early days of Mac OS X beta, a single application mode existed. Several internal prototypes of a Stage Manager-like experience have been made throughout the years.

"There are so many ways to work on the Mac. Spaces are used by some, and Mission Control sees various visitors. It's not a matter of whether or not you like the Command Tab, but rather whether or not you want to make a mess, clean it up, or minimize it. As far as I can tell, there is no incorrect answer here; there are many legitimate methods to work on the Mac.

This method of managing workspaces seems to be iPad-centric. However, Federighi claims that two separate teams at Apple, one on the iPad side and one on the macOS side, came up with a similar notion and came to the same conclusion. This, he explains, indicates that this strategy includes both views.

Some of us daily Mac users truly desired this experience that offered us the balance we were looking for. In other words, we at Apple took this notion and said, "We believe that's achievable; we want to make this happen." In addition, on the iPad front, we were considering [it]. Believe it or not, two separate teams of brainstormers and designers came up with almost the same concept."

He understands there will be a set of individuals with 40 years of Mac history to back up their hopes for the new Macbook Pro. If the feature radically differs from what people think, it's a risk. Moreover, this is a tool many Mac devotees will not be able to instantly put to use.

A new set of tools necessitates a time for individuals to adjust their muscle memory and expectations. For iPad owners, of course. Those who desire to work in this manner on the Mac are a small but vocal minority.

To Federighi, "if 20% of Mac users think this is another amazing weapon in my quiver, that's terrific."

Source: Apple

Why are we doing this now, and why is it M1?

Every new Apple product launch has the same thing in common: a desire for it to have come out sooner. Finally, among Apple watchers, the term has become an inside joke or semi-troll joke. Launches tend to be more challenging to pull off than they appear at first glance. Furthermore, the quality and usability required to satisfy billions of users. Edge cases and thus the rough ends of software have increased as Apple's products have grown to serve more diverse purposes. However, a benchmark for platform-level developers remains its software teams' overall consistency.

However, I felt the timing question merited a response, so I did just that. Regarding releasing Stage Manager and other multitasking enhancements for the iPad, Federighi says that Apple had to do a lot of work to get the rails in place. As a result, even though it was clear that people were eager for more capabilities, some groundwork had to be laid.

Now that you've used the Split View and Slide Over features, Developers had to support full app resizing in Apple's frameworks to use Stage Manager. Multiple apps running simultaneously on the screen required infrastructure support on Apple's part. There were also hardware requirements to consider.

As Federighi puts it, "Building to M1 was critical as well." "From the beginning, the iPad has always maintained this incredibly high standard of responsiveness and interactivity. " It's as if you're touching the real thing under the screen with the directness of interaction that every app offers. At the same time, I believe that the technical challenges of achieving this goal are underappreciated by the public.

When you have multiple apps and a lot of screen space, you have to ensure that any apps can respond instantly to touch in a way you don't expect from a desktop app." That's a different set of constraints when dealing with indirect manipulation."

With the M1 chips, Stage Manager can take advantage of the increased power of the GPU, faster I/O in virtual memory, faster storage, and more RAM. All of this had to come together for the experience to remain fluid, and according to Federighi, it did this year.

There has been some discussion about why Stage Manager requires an Apple M1 processor to work. Since there were many theories about which components needed the new hardware and which were up to the user, I asked for clarification.

In Federighi's view, the problem stemmed from Apple's incredibly high standards for responsiveness in its products. He points out that on the iPad, the bar for interactive responsiveness and the experience is so high that every app you can touch must be able to respond almost instantly. As a result, in the past, any apps that a user wanted to run right away had to be installed in RAM. Apps on iOS, on the other hand, don't use virtual memory at all.

Several factors had to come together to achieve that level of responsiveness. First, a large amount of RAM and "high-speed IO virtual memory" was required to accommodate multiple apps in the active bucket.

According to Federighi, "our virtual memory swap can be super fast only because the M1 iPads combined the high DRAM capacity with very high capacity, high-performance NAND." Because we're allowing you to run up to eight apps on a single panel, the other systems simply can't respond instantly and have enough memory.

Even though Stage Manager was only available on M1 iPads, it wasn't just because of a lack of memory.

"We also see Stage Manager as a complete experience that includes connectivity to external displays." Our previous iPads do not support 4K, 5K, or 6K displays; the M1's IO supports connectivity that our previous iPads do not. It can drive these displays at scaled resolutions. On other iPads, "we can't do that."

Graphics were also a limiting factor.

"We designed Stage Manager to full advantage of the M1's capabilities. Apps animate in and out with tilt and shadow as well as angle and shadow. No one else can do it at the level of graphics performance required to do so at such high frame rates, across such large displays and multiple displays.

A lesser system simply cannot provide the whole Stage Manager experience, according to Federighi. Our goal is to have it available in as many places as possible. So why do we have to do this? We'll remember this for the rest of our lives. Rather than settling for less, we're setting the bar high for others to follow.

Source: Apple

Why this way?

Stage Manager is a fascinating avatar for the Apple Way (my word, ™, etc.) of design. The fundamental concepts, underlined primarily on the iPad, offer the user a method to navigate via presence rather than memory. The essence of the information appliance method is that the iPad should encapsulate the job at hand and reduce distractions. When that rule is breached, the supporting pillars of the philosophy — direct engagement, show not tell and clear navigation breadcrumbs — kick in to protect the user from becoming lost.

Though theoretically a window manager, the method here is certainly not a free for all. Apple is making some pretty precise decisions for the user to keep things feeling instantly actionable. The windows snap to specified sizes. You can never conceal one program by putting another immediately over it.

“As a user, you enjoy that you’re not continuously collecting clutter, you’re not tidying things up, you’re not controlling where things are, you simply do what you want to do. And it’s there. And it’s, it’s all handled for you,” explains Federighi on their approach to Stage Manager’s design. “It’s clean and concentrated. Traditional windowing settings are the contrary. They are mess-producing by default. Anything you open increases clutter. Everything includes you need to sort of control where things are, how things could cover one other up, and so forth. And so you’re accountable for cleaning up after yourself the entire time.”

“But even the manner that those things are structured, we ensure that windows are always accessible and not covering one other up. So you don’t have to handle it. And then, when you click on the next app, however, you’re back to a clean, single-window experience. And we’re keeping everything still available to you. So you have your recent applications. It’s not out of sight, out of mind. They’re there for speedy multitasking. But they’re not in the way and cluttering things up.

“This was a design that we felt really kept the spirit of what we love about iPad while providing you the flexibility and fluidity of the multitasking experience that certain folks seeking to extend iPad further were really yearning for.”

In my early observations, this technique is pretty nicely handled. Though there will be that superset of people that needs endlessly customizable windows, the capacity to enable one window to block another, and the freedom to be as messy as possible — that’s just not the iPad base, and it shouldn’t be catered to here, in my view.

I believe that if Stage Manager continues to become refined and polished, it may easily replace the relatively obscure Spaces, Mission Control, and other multi-app displays on iPad. Improvements in getting one program to snap to full screen and then back would be fantastic, for instance. I believe it ought to be single touch or squeeze motion – now it’s two taps away behind an odd symbol. But snapping to “full screen” to enable the iPad to be the app and then back to permit inter-app communication should be part of the primary flow, not a side branch.

Still, the feature has an elastic enough structure to take on beefier activities, more applications retained in memory, and an immediacy that feels swiftly useful and strong. As someone who has been chiefly driving on iPad for years now and has become accustomed to swimming against the single-app approach when it comes to multi-app workflows, it’s been a wonderful surprise.

Building from beta

Federighi said that Apple will continue to work as a Stage Manager during the summer. Even while the beta versions of Apple’s software receive a lot more attention these days, he adds, their main task is encouraging developers to use their new SDK and prepare their programs.

After that, they want the framework of the experience in place to assure that the input they’re receiving is genuinely helpful. But they’re still working on the feature, and Federighi adds that they have a few items “in-flight” that they know are enhancements or changes that they can slip in on upcoming beta versions.

“We already had a lot of things planned as it related to stage management both on Mac and iPad,” adds Federighi. “And some of the criticism we’ve heard is stuff where we’re like ‘yeah, I mean that that’s coming in seed two or three!’ We already have those items identified, either bugs or merely incomplete pieces or adjustments to behavior.

“There hasn’t been anything we’ve seen that has us thinking like, that is surprising news. Many of them are either the response we anticipate from folks who haven’t kind of habituated to the system or in places where we have modifications in flight. So sure, we’re absolutely going to continue to do that.”

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