A spirited defense of Apple's Stage Manager | Cult of Mac

A spirited defense of Apple’s Stage Manager


Hands on: Stage Manager in iPadOS 16 brings the floating app windows we asked for
Stage Manager isn't perfect but it doesn't deserve all the criticism being heaped on it.
Image: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The new Stage Manager multitasking system is Apple’s answer to requests for floating app windows on iPad. It’s drawn a lot of criticism, much of which is undeserved.

I use the new system all day every day. Here’s why there’s a lot to like in Stage Manager, although there are undoubtedly some problems, too.

A brief introduction to Stage Manager

Apple built side-by-side multitasking into iPadOS years ago. Split View lets you put a pair of applications next to each other, with them filling the tablet screen. And there’s Slide Over, with a floating app that can move off the edge of the screen. But many people weren’t satisfied. They wanted a multitasking system more like a Mac.

Apple responded with Stage Manager, which puts applications into floating, resizable, overlapping windows. But it doesn’t work exactly the way Mac users are familiar with. It’s different enough that Stage Manager is also an alternative in macOS Ventura.

For iPad users, the windowed system is an option on every tablet running an M-series processor plus earlier iPad Pro models released since 2018.

Much of the criticism for Stage Manager fits into a few broad categories. After about five months using it, here’s why I don’t think all the mudslinging in each of these categories is justified.

Claim: There’s no reason for Stage Manager

Some people see no need for a windowed multitasking system on a tablet. They’re happy with one screen/one app. But that’s too limited for many of iPad users, including me. We need an computer suited for serious productivity, and that requires multitasking.

And as much as I love Split View, Apple’s original answer to side-by-side multitasking, it doesn’t act like any other computer. We’re all familiar with Mac and/or Windows, and iPad demanded users learn a whole new way to put two apps together on the display. That’s too much to ask. And most newbies aren’t even aware the system is there. Something better is required.

Many of the people who agree that iPad needs a windowed multitasking system think that the tablet should use the exact same one as macOS. Doing so has the advantage of familiarity, but it also assumes that the macOS system is the best possible one. With Stage Manager, Apple is developing a better multitasking system.

Mac experts – the people making most of the complaints about the new system, as far as I can tell – see no reason for this. I disagree.

I remember when Mac OS multitasking worked quite differently from today’s macOS system. It’s better now. And Apple is continuing the improvement process, with Stage Manager the next step. That’s why it’s available for macOS as well as iPadOS.

Claim: It’s very poorly designed

iPadOS 16 Stage Manager
The collection of app windows on the left side of the screen is a highlight of Stage Manager in iPadOS 16.1.
Image: Apple

As noted, it seems to me that much of the criticism of Apple’s windowed multitasking system for iPad can be summed up with “It doesn’t work like Mac.”

Here’s an example: I saw someone complaining on Twitter that adding a new app window to Stage Manager caused other windows to move around to make room for it. The only basis for disliking this I can come up with is that macOS doesn’t do that. But it should.

And I’ve seen complaints that the system makes it hard to hide one app window completely behind another. I can understand experts not liking this – they’d only do it deliberately – but the computer is trying to help average users not lose track of the app windows they’re using.

Also, if you’re someone who typically has 263 windows open simultaneously, Stage Manager isn’t your friend. But macOS is enabling you to be disorganized. The new system could make you more productive, in the same way iPadOS won’t let you dump all your files in a big heap on the desktop the way macOS will.

Speaking of being more organized, a highlight of Apple’s new multitasking method is the ability to make collections of open windows from a variety of apps, and move those collections into thumbnails on the left side of the screen ready to be reopened later.

I keep Mail, Slack and Twitter in one, and the article I’m currently working on in another, and switch between them as needed. What this means is that I don’t just open Mail, I open all my top communication apps with a single click. It’s very convenient.

As I see it, Stage Manager is a multitasking system better suited for average users than the macOS one. It doesn’t leave windowing up to the user, but tries to help them arrange their app windows in the best way.

That said, there’s no doubt there’s bugs.

Claim: It’s too buggy

You don’t have to look around Twitter long to find complaints about bugs in Stage Manager. As someone who uses the system on an iPad Pro every day, I’m certainly not arguing that point. There are bugs. But seems to me too many people argue that it’s so buggy as to be unusable.

That’s simply not true. And it’s not only me who likes it.

Going beyond bugs, there are significant limitations. To me, the worst of these is that windows from each application can only be in a single app collection. I can’t, for example, have one Safari window in a collection of open work apps and another with a collection of social networking apps.

And a few of the design decisions are, well, not the best. CMD-TAB switching between apps doesn’t work like I think it should, for example.

But Apple made the new system optional on both iPad and Mac because all the wrinkles haven’t been worked out. No features were taken out of iPadOS or macOS to add new new system. If you don’t need it, don’t use it. But if you want to give it a try, it’s there.

It would have been better if the system had been labeled “Beta” even when it launched in iPadOS 16.1 and macOS Ventura. That’s effectively what it is, a public beta.

Claim: Adding external display support just makes it worse

iPad finally gets floating windows in Stage Manager on iPadOS 16
iPadOS 16.2 brings one of the most-requested iPad features: full external display support.
Screenshot: Apple

When iPadOS 16.2 comes in December, it’ll add full support for external displays. Stage Manager is required for a second screen. Those who already think the system is a useless mess say adding it to an external display is just making it worse.

That seems to ignore that the launch of this feature is still a month away, so bugs are to be expected.

And I know I’m repeating myself, but I use the beta of iPadOS 16.2 with an external display and Stage Manager all day every day. I’m writing this article with that setup. I’ve found it to be not 100% bug free, but no worse than any other beta software. It’s vastly better than early betas were.

And this feature is a huge improvement, especially for people like me who use an iPad as a tablet, a laptop and a desktop. You’re no longer dependent on a screen small enough to be easily portable. Your tablet can also be your desktop computer with a huge monitor to work on.

Give Stage Manager more time

It’s early days for Apple’s new windowed multitasking system. It needs improvement, but the idea that it’s rubbish and Apple should go back to the drawling board is ridiculous.

It would have been nice if Stage Manager had launched fully formed and perfect but, sadly, it’s been many years since Apple added a major new feature to any of its OSs without initial problems. But there’s plenty of time to work out the bugs, the limitations and any poor choices in design.

In the mean time, Stage Manager is completely optional but worth trying, especially for anyone who uses their iPad as a serious productivity tool. Given enough time, it’s going to be brilliant.


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.