iPadOS 15’s multitasking controls are a nudge to developers

As I was reading Jason’s excellent Macworld piece about the future of iPadOS multitasking this morning, I was simultaneously poking around the iPadOS 15 beta when something struck me.

As of iPadOS 15, all apps now include those three-dot multitasking controls at the top. It’s certainly an improvement over the previously existing flat bar: tap on it, and you get options to put the window in Split View or in Slide Over—illustrated using glyphs that are nearly identical to what you’d see on the Mac if you hover over a window’s green “full screen” (formerly Zoom) control.

iPadOS 15 multitasking vs. the Mac
Familiar-looking glyphs.

But what hit me was something so obvious it was a bit like missing the nose on your face: this multitasking widget is always there. Always. Even in apps that don’t support Split View or Slide Over. In those cases, tapping on the multitasking control will still show the Split View and Slide Over icons, but they’re grayed out.

Now, that might seem obvious, but if you think about it a little more, it’s also remarkably telling. Because in the past, given that multitasking was kind of hidden away—or, at least, a power feature that appealed mainly to savvy users—an app that didn’t support Split View or Slide Over was mainly an annoyance only to those aware that it was even an option.

Grayed out multitasking widgets
Name and shame: iPad apps that don’t support multitasking are now much more obvious.

In iPadOS 15, by contrast, multitasking is now way more obvious than before, which will likely lead to greater adoption. And that means that any user who taps on that control will see when an app doesn’t support these features, letting them join in on the frustration.

To me, this reads as Apple providing a tacit encouragement to all developers that they’d better start thinking about embracing Split View/Slide Over/windowing, because users are going to notice when they don’t.

That makes even more sense when you think about this as part of a gradual transition for multitasking on the iPad. If Apple had, by contrast, implemented a full-fledged windowing system in iPadOS 15, a lot of developers who hadn’t implemented these multitasking modes might have had to hustle to make their apps work properly.

Instead, the next year is going to introduce multitasking capabilities to a lot more users, which may in turn drive app developers who had not previously enabled Split View and Slide Over to build support into their apps. With the end result that when iPadOS 16 (or 17) rolls around and Apple takes multitasking to the next logical step, the company can pull out its time-honored method of saying “And hey, if your app already supports Split View and Slide Over (and, say, multiple instances), you don’t have to do a thing—your app already works with all these new windowing features!”

It also makes sense from the perspective of using these controls as drag handles, because it implies a future where even apps that don’t support multitasking will need these controls—say, if apps need to be dragged or sent to an external display. Look back up at the Mac full screen widget and its support for Sidecar, which lets you send any app to a connected iPad. Not hard to imagine that the iPad version might some day let you send an app to another monitor.

All in all, it’s a good old traditional Apple slow pedal. There are those amongst us—myself included—who had been hoping that this year Apple would just rip the band-aid off in one fell swoop, but the company has demonstrated in the past that it’s perfectly capable of slooooowly peeling it off when it wants to.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]

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