iPad needs floating app windows to reach its full potential | Cult of Mac

iPad needs floating app windows to reach its full potential


Floating app windows could be coming to iPad. Finally.
Apple is allegedly working to make this dream into a reality.
Illustration: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

With iPadOS 16 right around the corner, there’s a lot of hope that a rumor of floating app windows for iPad will come true. This would make Apple’s tablet more Mac-like, without turning it into a Mac.

Enhanced support for external displays is also on many people’s wish lists, including my own. Apps on multiple screens would be another important part of making iPad more productive for high-end users.

Time to make iPad more powerful

As it stands, iPadOS has a user interface problem. Putting two applications side by side on the screen is harder than it needs to be. While average users are likely happy to run one app at a time, power users need to work with two or more on-screen apps almost all the time.

Apple made some nice improvements to multitasking in iPadOS 15, but there’s still enormous room for advancement.

The basic problem is that iPads do side-by-side multitasking differently from Macs — and every other computer people are used to. We’re expected to learn a whole new method for putting applications next to each other just for iPad. It’s ridiculous.

iPad needs to offer floating app windows like any other computer. But this must be done in an iPad-like way. Directly copying the macOS system would not work on a touchscreen-based tablet.

Apple may already have the answer. And the change I’m asking for might be announced in only a few weeks.

iPadOS 16 could bring floating app windows

Apple is widely expected to unveil iPadOS 16 at its Worldwide Developers Conference in early June. That’ll give iPad users their first definitive look at changes coming over the next year.

But we already know some of what to expect from leaks. The most trustworthy information we have comes from Bloomberg‘s insider sources, who say iPadOS 16 will offer a new multitasking interface.

There’s not much detail, but one tipster got even more specific, predicting that support for applications in floating windows is in development and might appear this year.

Broadening the appeal of the iPad

According to the unconfirmed report, iPad would continue to display applications in full-screen mode when being used as a traditional tablet. But connecting an external keyboard and trackpad would cause apps to switch to floating windows.

One way this might be accomplished is by having larger iPads display applications sized smaller for iPhones. For example, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a 2,732-by-2,048-pixel screen that could show multiple applications sized for the 1,334-by-750-pixel resolution of the iPhone SE in floating windows.

This would either replace or supplement the existing side-by-side multitasking system in iPadOS. The current system is highly functional — I use it all all day, every day — but it’s not very intuitive. In contrast, people are accustomed to floating windows because it’s how they’ve interacted with their Macs and PCs for decades. Mixing the two would give users more options.

If the rumor proves correct, iPadOS 16 could usher in an iPad that works like a tablet when being held like a tablet, but functions like a Mac when configured like a MacBook.

This is a vastly better option than slapping macOS on the iPad, which is suggested far too often. Apple’s desktop operating system isn’t designed for touchscreens or for being used without a keyboard. That’s why a MacPad would be a disaster. Making iPadOS more like macOS while still staying iPadOS is the better option.

iPadOS 16 also should make external displays more useful

Floating app windows should be extended to second screens attached to the tablet. Being able to have different applications open in floating windows on the tablet’s display and an external display would be a huge improvement.

Obviously, we’d have to interact with an app on an external display using a cursor and touchpad/mouse. But iPadOS has had this capability for years, and many people already prefer working with their iPad this way when they have a removable keyboard connected to it.

That said, there have been no leaks pointing to Apple letting iPad make better use of second screens. Unfortunately.

Just to be clear, there are uses now. As just one example, I regularly use my iPad to watch movies and shows on a TV. But the options are too limited considering what should be possible.

Make the M1 make sense

The iPad Pro and iPad Air have the same Apple M1 processor used in many Macs. The 2022 iPad Pro is expected to have a rumored M2 chip. That’s a lot of power going to waste — right now, very little iPad software requires chips this powerful.

Floating app windows is the answer, especially with open applications spread across multiple displays. Having a web browser, an email app and a video editor active simultaneously would go a long way toward justifying an M-series processor in an iPad.

Take iPad in a more Mac-like direction

Since its inception, the iPad’s capabilities have grown steadily. At first, it didn’t support multitasking at all, but side-by-side application windows were added in later upgrades. Floating app windows for iPad are a possibility this year, and would be a huge step forward in the tablet’s usability.

From the little we know, it seems this is the direction Apple is headed. This fits with the long list of improvements that made the iPad more Mac-like while holding onto the iPad’s basic advantages.

There are so many of us who already use an iPad as our primary computer and would love floating app windows. 2022 could be our year.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.