Hands on with Stage Manager improvements in iPadOS 17 | Cult of Mac

Hands on with Stage Manager improvements in iPadOS 17


Hands on with Stage Manager improvements in iPadOS 17
With Stage Manager in iPadOS 17, you can arrange app windows however you like.
Graphic: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Apple is making significant improvements to its Stage Manager multitasking system so iPads can work even more like Macs. The iPadOS 17 version offers additional freedom in window sizing and position.

I’ve been testing the update since Apple began releasing beta versions of iPadOS 17 in June. I already liked the original version of Stage Manager — but the new one is even better.

Get ready for Stage Manager 2.0

Stage Manager is Apple’s response to requests from iPad power users for floating app windows. Previously, iPadOS offered only a simplified multitasking system designed for tablet users. The highlight is Split View, which lets users put a pair of applications next to each other, with them filling the tablet screen. And this system is still the default for iPad multitasking.

Apple created Stage Manager for users who find Split View too limited. These are often people who attach a keyboard and mouse to make their iPad into a touchscreen-enhanced laptop. And they want that laptop to function like a Mac.

The new UI system launched in iPadOS 16, and is still new enough that there’s plenty of room for improvement. And that’s what Apple is doing with iPadOS 17.

More windows movement freedom

Stage Manager puts every application into its own floating window. It also tries to help you arrange these windows in logical ways. The original version was a bit aggressive about this, putting limits on where windows could go (and irritating lots of iPad owners).

The overhauled version of Stage Manager in iPadOS 17 removes most of these restrictions. I can open multiple windows and resize them as I wish, then put them just about anywhere I like. That wasn’t true before.

This change is what I mean when I say that iPad now works a lot more like Mac. It’s very nice — I think less about the UI and just get my work done.

Stage Manager in iPadOS 17 has fewer restrictions on window placement.
Stage Manager’s restrictions on window placement from iPadOS 16 go away in iPadOS 17. You can resize and arrange windows as you wish.
Graphic: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

That said, Stage Manager is still trying to help arrange the windows, and that’s sometimes irritating. For instance, it’s impossible to put part of a window off the edge of the screen, even when that would be useful.

And if I close some windows, leaving only one open, Stage Manager “helpfully” moves it to the center of the screen. But when I do this I’m usually making space to open another window, so I have to move the first one back off to one side. Every. Single. Time.

But I do like that one app can not be completely hidden behind another.

Suggestions for iPadOS 18

As much progress as Apple is making with iPadOS 17, there’s room for improvement.

On a touchscreen, Stage Manager still only allows windows to be resized from one corner, where a handle appears. The corner it chooses seems arbitrary, but the real problem is that this whole limitation is ridiculous. Especially considering if I’m using a mouse or trackpad, I can resize a window from either side.

Another feature of the UI that’s good but needs improvement is Stages. These are collections of application windows that can be opened and closed together. I put all my social media apps into one Stage so I can bring them all up side by side with a single click. The same goes for Safari and a note-taking app. Stages appear as icons on the left edge of the iPad screen when they’re not open.

Applications can have multiple windows open, and I can put a separate Safari window in each of these Stages. But the process for doing so is painfully unintuitive. It’s so bad I only recently learned how. Stage Manager in iPadOS 18 needs to come up with a better system for working with multiple windows from the same app.

Stage Manager in iPadOS 17: Summing up

If you tried Stage Manager in iPadOS 16 and came away unsatisfied, try it again once Apple introduces iPadOS 17 this autumn. It’s better.

But if you’re happy with the standard iPadOS user interface, probably because you rarely do multitasking on your iPad, then stick with it.

Stage Manager is for iPad experts. It’s for people who use their tablet as their primary computer. Especially those who regularly hook up an external monitor and keyboard.

If this is you, learning the ins and outs of Stage Manager is worth your time. Apple’s iPad multasking feature makes me significantly more productive. And the iPadOS 17 improvements add to that.


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