Ten years later, though, I don’t think the iPad has come close to living up to its potential. By the time the Mac turned 10, it had redefined multiple industries. In 1984 almost no graphic designers or illustrators were using computers for work. By 1994 almost all graphic designers and illustrators were using computers for work. The Mac was a revolution. The iPhone was a revolution. The iPad has been a spectacular success, and to tens of millions it is a beloved part of their daily lives, but it has, to date, fallen short of revolutionary.
Software is where the iPad has gotten lost. iPadOS’s “multitasking” model is far more capable than the iPhone’s, yes, but somehow Apple has painted it into a corner in which it is far less consistent and coherent than the Mac’s, while also being far less capable. iPad multitasking: more complex, less powerful. That’s quite a combination.
Consider the basic task of putting two apps on screen at the same time, the basic definition of “multitasking” in the UI sense. To launch the first app, you tap its icon on the homescreen, just like on the iPhone, and just like on the iPad before split-screen multitasking. Tapping an icon to open an app is natural and intuitive. But to get a second app on the same screen, you cannot tap its icon. You must first slide up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the Dock. Then you must tap and hold on an app icon in the Dock. Then you drag the app icon out of the Dock to launch it in a way that it will become the second app splitting the display. But isn’t dragging an icon out of the Dock the way that you remove apps from the Dock? Yes, it is — when you do it from the homescreen. So the way you launch an app in the Dock for split-screen mode is identical to the way you remove that app from the Dock. Oh, and apps that aren’t in the Dock can’t become the second app in split screen mode. What sense does that limitation make?
How would anyone ever figure out how to split-screen multitask on the iPad if they didn’t already know how to do it?
Multitasking on the iPad is one of those things that 2% of people will use, because only, say, 10% bother to figure out how it works, and most of them will find it too unwieldy to use. (Yes, I’m estimating, for rhetorical reasons…) While I think it’s great that Apple has forked iOS to create an iPad specific version, it’s too complicated to use these features.
I don’t use my iPad a lot, but I know there are people who use it as their main computing device. While some of them leverage every possible feature of multitasking, shortcuts, etc., most probably just use a one-app-at-a-time approach. Why? Because it’s not confusing. When I have used multitasking, I’ve never felt that I accomplished any app-arranging actions by anything other than luck.
It’s not Apple’s fault that they couldn’t come up with a better system, it’s just the limitations of the device and its interface. If they want people to use these features, they need to figure out a way to make them easy to use, and, above all, easy to discover.