Evidence of iPad floating app windows shows up in Apple WebKit

Evidence of iPad floating app windows shows up in Apple WebKit

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Floating app windows could be coming to iPad. Finally.
The odds of floating app windows appearing with iPadOS 16 just went up.
Illustration: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

There’s a new reason to think iPadOS 16 might include support for resizable floating app windows. A developer found evidence that this hoped-for feature is being added to Apple’s browser engine for iPad and iPhone.

If true, confirmation isn’t far away. Apple is expected to unveil iPadOS 16 at its Worldwide Developers Conference in early June.

iPad floating app windows could be coming soon

Many iPad users want the tablet to be more Mac-like. Near the top of their wish list is resizable, floating app windows. iPadOS already offers Slide Over, its own version of side-by-side multitasking, but some people want the tablet to act like macOS.

It might be happening. “WebKit just added infrastructure for a ‘multitasking mode’ on iOS that sure looks like it’s a system toggle that enables freely-resizable windows,” notes Steve Troughton-Smith on Twitter.

This doesn’t come out off the blue. Leaked information says iPadOS 16 will offer a new multitasking interface. And one tipster says that support for applications in floating windows is in development.

WebKit points to a huge iPad change. Maybe.

WebKit is Apple’s browser engine used by Safari and third-party apps in the App Store. It’s open source and used in non-Apple browsers, so Troughton-Smith can take a deep dive into it and come up with a nugget like “Adjust some viewport behaviors when multitasking mode is enabled.”

Based on what he turned up in WebKit, the developer says, “It looks like ‘multitasking mode’ is something that can change at runtime, so apps can transition in and out of it. I could envision something like Windows 10’s ‘tablet mode’ that you can toggle at any point to restructure the UI for touch vs mouse & keyboard.”

Troughton-Smith says, “I know better than to get excited about improvements to iPad, because we’ve been burned so many times,” but he then gets kind of excited and says, “if they’re really heading this direction w/ iPad, this would enable all-new form factors for iPadOS. Larger iPads, iPadOS laptops and desktops, ext monitors, more.”

The WebKit change is not proof that floating, resizable app windows are on the way to iPad. But it’s another reason for fans of Apple’s tablet to be excited about the WWDC keynote address on June 6 when iPadOS 16 is expected to be announced.