When iOS 9 rolls out to the public this fall, it’ll be iPad users that appreciate it most, thanks to the many improvements Apple has made to multitasking. One of the biggest is Split View, a feature that’s exclusive to the iPad Air 2, which lets you run two apps side-by-side — just like you would on your Mac.
Split View lets you read articles in Safari while composing an email in Mail, enjoy a novel in iBooks while taking notes in the Notes app, and talk to friends via iMessage while organizing your schedule in Calendar.
But is Split View as game-changing as it looks at first glance? You bet it is.
Activating Split View is as easy as swiping your finger in from the right side of the display. You’ll see Slide Over initially — another feature that’s new to iOS 9, which I’ll talk about in another piece — but if you select the second app you wish to use and then enlarge the window by dragging its left edge into the center of the screen, you’ll enter Split View mode.
You can now use both of the apps displayed on your screen simultaneously — as if they were one. There’s no need to keep double-tapping the home button to jump in and out of apps, and there’s no reloading, so you get a seamless experience between the two.
I’ve been using Split View as much as I could over the past few days, just to see how well it works in different scenarios. It’s incredibly useful just for the simplest of things — like continuing an iMessage conversation while you’re browsing the web — but it really shines when you need to get stuff done.
I’ve used my iPad for work before, but it’s always been a painful experience. It normally involves switching between countless tabs in Safari — that keep reloading when you don’t want them to — or switching between apps using the app switcher. Everything takes twice as long, and I find myself itching to return to my computer.
While lay in bed on Sunday morning, I used Split View to draft a number of articles in Safari while referring to notes I’d made in the Notes app, or press releases I’d received in Mail. The whole experience was just as smooth as Apple promised it would be, and it no longer felt like the iPad was holding me back.
In fact, I felt more productive.
At my desk there are three monitors, each of which is displaying windows that grab my attention when I should be concentrating. I get distracted by my Twitter timeline, RSS reader, Slack (the chat app we use at Cult of Mac, and other programs. But on my iPad, all I see while I’m working are the two apps I need.
Split View doesn’t have to be about getting things done, of course.
While watching your favorite movie, you can use Split View to quickly open up Safari and find out who that actor is, or the name of that catchy song in the soundtrack. You can use it to find restaurants or book movie tickets while chatting to a friend on FaceTime, or to find directions in Maps while putting together a trip itinerary in Mail.
Let’s say you want to learn how to edit photos to turn your drab holiday snaps into stunning masterpieces you can put into an album. You can find a tips or tutorial video in Safari, or download one and put it into the Videos app — then edit your images in Photos while you learn.
Once you’re using Split View, you can quickly swap the app you’re using on the right side of your display by dragging down from the top of the screen, then selecting another other one. You can also adjust the size of each app by dragging the slider in the middle of the display to either side.
In landscape mode, you can have both apps take up a fair share of the display — half each — or allow one to have three quarters, while the other takes the rest. Split View surprisingly works in portrait mode, too, but the only setup allowed there is the second one.
If you want to return to using just one app, you can drag the slider from the middle of the display right to the edge. If you drag it to the right side, you’ll be left with the app displayed on the left, and vice-versa.
One of the great things about Split View is that your setup remains intact when you switch apps. So if you’re using Safari alongside Notes, for instance, and you switch to Messages to reply to something, when you switch back to Safari it will still have Notes alongside it, and you can pick up where you left off.
Split View isn’t quite there yet, however.
The feature is limited right now because it only works with select Apple apps — those that are baked into iOS. But Apple is making the necessary APIs available to third-party developers so that they can make their own apps Split View-compatible.
Many will already be working on this, so we’ll likely see more Split View apps by the time iOS 9 rolls out this fall — with plenty more to come later on. And as that library of Split View apps gets bigger, the feature is going to get better and better.
In time, you’ll be able to use YouTube alongside Twitter, Evernote alongside Chrome, and Pages alongside your banking app. Combinations like this will make the iPad an increasingly useful productivity tool — one that really could replace your notebook for good.
Ditching your PC
This is what Split View and Slide Over and the other improvements Apple is making to multitasking on iOS are all about.
Since its debut, Apple has billed the iPad as a post-PC device — an ultraportable machine that can do everything from browsing the web to editing movies to writing novels. But it has been held back by its lack of true multitasking functionality, and iOS 9 hopes to change that.
The 9.7-inch display will continue to be a stumbling block for many, but rumor has it Apple will solve that with a 12-inch “iPad Pro” later this year. Until then, I think I can get used to using Split View on my iPad Air 2. It has already made my device a lot more useful.