Those of us with an iPad have big expectations for the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system. These tablets pack performance comparable to laptops, but the software continues to lag.
Here’s what Tim Cook and Co. can do to remedy that.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 20, 2019 but is being revisited in the lead up to WWDC 2019.
UPDATE: iPadOS 13.1 is now out, and it offers almost everything asked for in this editorial.
iOS 13 tweaks for iPad
None of these suggestions require a device redesign. We just expect iOS 13 to take better advantage of the capabilities already built into current iPad models.
Tweaks like these would go a long way toward making the iPad a reliable tool for creatives and other pros around the world.
1. Allow applications to display multiple windows
Over the years, Apple made great strides with side-by-side multitasking in iOS. It’s now easy to work with two applications at the same time, and even drag-and-drop items between them.
Now it’s time to take this to the next level and allow each app to display at least two files at once. This would allow someone to, for example, compare the contents of two Word documents open simultaneously.
Apple took the first step toward this when iOS 11 enabled two Safari tabs to be open side-by-side. Bringing this function to every application is overdue.
2. Improve the Files app
The iOS Files application has evolved to become quite useful — but there are still gaps in its abilities.
Most notably, this software should be able to read and write files to drives connected via Lightning or USB-C. Currently, you can plug third-party thumb drives into the iPad’s Lightning port. However, their contents can only be accessed through proprietary applications. And the 2018 iPad Pro can’t even use these accessories because it has a USB-C port instead of Lightning. It’s past time Files got a feature every other tablet, PC and non-iPhone handset already has.
Another tweak iOS 13 should bring to the Files app is a preview pane. Having the icon for each file show a thumbnail of the contents is nice, but it’s just a start.
3. Better support for external displays
Laptop users have come to expect the ability to expand their workspace by attaching a second screen. It’s time this productivity feature came to the iPad.
With the right adapter, it’s been possible for years now to hook an iOS device to an external display. And the USB-C port on the 2018 iPad Pro allows anyone using an off-the-shelf hub to connect their tablet to a screen … which really highlights the fact that there’s not much that can be done with one.
You can mirror the iPad’s display onto a larger screen, which is very convenient for presentations but not much else. And the videos from streaming services like Netflix can take full advantage of a big-screen TV. Great, but we need more.
It’s already possible for an iPad to show two applications side-by-side. One of those should be moveable to a second screen. Even better, our earlier request that applications be able to display multiple files simultaneously should also include showing one of these on an external screen.
Of course, this will require …
4. Support for mice and trackpads
Fully using an external display is going to require a way to interact with the applications running on it. The obvious answer is a mouse or trackpad.
Besides, when using the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio or a similar accessory for long periods, a mouse is easier than frequently reaching up to tap the touchscreen.
5. Allow more than one audio input/output
Many people use their iPads to create music and podcasts. But they face a frustrating limitation: The tablets only accept audio input from a single source.
This mattered less when iOS devices had only a single Lightning port, but the welcome ability to plug multi-port hubs into the USB-C port of the latest iPad Pro means the situation has changed. iOS should be smart enough to stop automatically switching to only the last audio source that was plugged in.
Bonus: Take better advantage of the USB-C port
Replacing the Lightning port with USB-C in the 2018 iPad Pro has the potential to dramatically enhance the way this and future Apple tablets are used. But iOS 13 needs to embrace this change.
We’ve already covered the USB-C-related improvements we want. The Files app should be able to read and write to drives plugged into this port. And external displays connected through a USB-C hub need more functionality. This port makes adding a mouse or trackpad a snap: It’s time iOS supported these ubiquitous peripherals. And iPads should be able to handle multiple audio streams.
iOS 13 and iPad: Last thoughts
Apple argues that an iPad should be your next computer. Many of us are already using our tablets as our primary PC, or at least have one heavily integrated into our workflow. But we all occasionally run into simple tasks that either the iPad can’t do or that prove much more difficult than they should be.
Most of these limitations are extra-frustrating because they aren’t a result of the iPad’s powerful hardware. Instead, iOS is putting up the roadblocks. It’s time for these to come down. The next version of Apple’s mobile operating system offers a perfect opportunity to let the iPad shine.