By Matt Birchler
Topic: ipad
Posts: 41
Page 1 of 5 Older Posts

The iPadOS Update We’ve Actually Been Waiting For

There was a lot of good stuff in iPadOS 15 announced at WWDC last week. Hell, I’m running it on the iPad I’m using to write this post, and it’s made my iPad meaningfully better in some key ways. And yet there is a sense of disappointment around this not being The Update that we’ve all been waiting for.

Since I have no time for vague bitching about software, I wanted to lay my cards on the table for what would make me say, “this is The Update I’ve been waiting for!”

The Update

It’s pretty simple: when I plug my iPad Pro into an external display, that display will show my wallpaper or some sort of launcher, it will not mirror my iPad’s screen. It will also fill every pixel of my 16x9 display.

Now I can either launch apps from the second screen or drag apps from my iPad over to the display and drop them there (this probably requires a mouse, but I’m open to some clever touch solution). They’ll take up either half or all of the screen, no need for full on resizable windows. Of course, if Apple’s got a clever way to do freeform windows, I’m all ears.

This gives me an iPad setup that can have up to 4 apps on screen at the same time, as well as maybe a slide-over app and a picture-in-picture video playing in a corner somewhere.

All of this is built to be navigated and managed via a keyboard and trackpad, so it won’t be for all iPad users, but it will work great for those who use their iPads like laptops, which I would wager is most iPad Pro users.

Oh, and maybe RAM is a concern, but the new iPad Pros ship with as much RAM as Macs, so I trust Apple could make a few more apps work at the same time. Aspect ratios could also be a concern, but tons of iPad apps run on the Mac today and can be resized to arbitrary sizes, not to mention any half-decent iPad app is already dynamically sizing itself to look right on the many different iPad sizes & aspect ratios already.

And that’s it! There are more things that could make the iPad better, but this is the one thing that I think would make me go, “this is what I’ve been dreaming of!”

Multitasking vs Parallelism

In my mind, “multitasking” in computers is the ability for the user to actively work on several things at the same time.

Then there’s “parallelism,” which I think of as multitasking+. Yes, it’s partially me working on different things, but also the ability to me to tell my computer to do something, and then I move on to totally different things while it does its thing. For me it’s out of sight, out of mind, but it’s still happening. Examples of this could be rendering a video in Final Cut, downloading a large file in Safari, running a script on a remote server, or moving a file onto an external hard drive. Foreground, background, whatever, the computer knows I want to do it, and will keep going no matter what.

iOS 9 gave us multitasking on the iPad, and I really hope iPadOS 15 makes parallelism more powerful. At the very lest, I’d love it if I could simply start a video export in LumaFusion on my iPad Pro, throw the app in the background, and do other things while it works on it, I’d be very happy.

About that Magic Keyboard

Yesterday we got word that the new iPad Pros are not compatible with the Magic Keyboard that released almost exactly a year ago today. Let’s talk about it.

Why the Change?

While Apple didn’t give a reason for the change in compatibility, we can look at the differences ourselves and see why this may be.

First, the 11 inch Pro has the same physical dimensions as the 2020 model (it is 1% heavier, though), and the compatibility has not changed there; your original 11” Magic Keyboard will work just fine with the new 11” iPad Pro.

The 12.9” iPad Pro did change a bit more this time though. It’s 0.5mm thicker and 6% heavier than last year’s model. The height and width are exactly the same, but there is a bit of a measurable difference in the product.

Another note is that while the new 12.9” iPad Pro is not compatible with the old Magic Keyboard, old iPad Pros are compatible with the new keyboard. This implies to me that the connector tech is the same, and that the physical differences are the sole cause of the compatibility mess.

The Size Difference

The Magic Keyboard is made of a softer material than finely-tuned aluminum, so there’s some wiggle room in it that has been there from the start. The product is very solid, but there’s simply more give in it compared to all-metal accessories.

To test out the difference, I took a few sheets of printer paper, which happen to be almost exactly the size of the 12.9” iPad Pro, and stacked 7 of them on top of each other, closed the Magic Keyboard, and checked the fit.

The thing closed perfectly, and frankly didn’t feel any different from what it feels like without the additional thickness.

Oh, and why 7 sheets of paper? Printer paper is usually about 0.1mm thick, so I used 7 sheets to simulate at least 0.5mm and avoid any accusations of not adding the full 0.5mm because maybe my paper was 0.09mm thick or something like that.

The other difference is in weight, where the new12.9” iPad Pro is 682g, compared to 641g on the 2020 model. That’s about a 6% increase in weight, and so maybe the magnets are not able to hold up the iPad securely with the new weight.

And in this case the answer is even more clearly “nope, not a problem.” To test this, I took a few household items that added up to 41g, taped them to my iPad, and then put the keyboard on the Magic Keyboard. As you can probably guess, it held on with ease.

This one frankly didn’t seem to need testing at all, as the Magic Keyboard’s magnets are exceptionally strong. The idea that a 6% increase in weight would make it unusable implies that the current magnets are barely holding on, but that’s not nearly the case.

So What’s the Deal?

My suspicion is that while the 2020 Magic Keyboard still technically works with the 2021 iPad Pro’s physical changes, it technically moved it out of the margins Apple would officially support, so they made a new keyboard and officially set compatibility guidelines that push people to buy the 2021 keyboard with the 2021 iPad Pro.

We’ll know for certain when they ship next month, but the thing I’ll be keeping an eye out for is what happens when reviewers try this out for real. My prediction is that everything will work fine, but maybe there’s some physical change that’s not clear that will make this not works as seamlessly as I expect. The worst case would be if reviewers snap on the new iPads to the old Magic Keyboard and there’s a software block that prevents it from working at all together.

Funnily enough, last week I made a video about my keyboard setup and made a comment about how nice it is that keyboards don’t really go obsolete like other tech. I expressed glee that basically any keyboard bought in the past 30 years can plug into a modern computer and work perfectly. This is a strikingly different situation.

iPads, MacBooks, Aspect Ratios, and Window Chrome

With my recent purchase of a MacBook Air, I now have two 13” computers in my life, the MacBook Air and iPad Pro (2018). What I find really interesting is that while my iPad Pro feels almost too expansive sometimes, the MacBook Air feels very cramped by comparison. Why is that? The Air technically has a 0.4” bigger display, so why does it feel smaller? I have some ideas.

Aspect Ratio

For total clarity, the above image shows a 13” display, the MacBook Air’s 13.3” display, and the iPad Pro’s 12.9” screen.

The MacBook Air has Apple’s traditional 16x10 aspect ratio, which is taller than the traditional Windows 16x9 ratio, but is still pretty darn wide. By comparison, the iPad Pro is a more squared off 16x12 ratio (more commonly referred to as 4x3). So while the iPad is a bit narrower when used in its primary landscape orientation, it is taller, letting more information fit on screen at once.

I’m on the record more than once that I want to see Apple make some big changes to their portable Macs, and a more squared off aspect ratio is definitely on the list. Yes, this would mean even more black bars when watching 16x9 content on MacBooks, but the iPad is derided as “just being good for video watching” all the time, so I’m not super persuaded by that argument.

Window Chrome

I’m writing this on my iPad Pro, and Ulysses is taking up the full screen, with about a centimeter at the top of the page for the status bar and app icons, and the bottom centimeter for the keyboard options. The rest of the screen is dedicated to the app, and most iPad apps are built from the ground up to have as little visual clutter as possible.

Meanwhile, macOS is full of UI at all times. The menu bar, the dock, and apps in general have more window chrome. And with the fundamental act of windowing your apps, you are never utilizing the full screen space of your Mac with any single app. Yes, I know there is full screen mode, you can hide the dock, and the window chrome is also a feature, but it’s still not the same.

I think this is a fundamental difference between mac OS and iPadOS. iPad apps are typically variants of iPhone apps, so the developer has already tried to make a great experience on a 5” screen, so it feels liberating and luxurious when that UI gets to occupy a much larger screen. By comparison, Mac apps are meant to work on a massive 30” screen, but also smaller 13” screens. I’m sure this differs for some people, but for me the fact that 13” is the biggest screen iPad apps run on means they feel like they have tons of space, while 13” being the smallest screen Mac apps run means they feel cramped.


This isn’t to say the Mac is bad by any means, I’m just working through why the same advertised screen space feels so different to me on two different devices.

Another God Damned iPad Post

If you’ve gone a few days without hearing someone say the iPad “just isn’t there yet” to be a real computer, just wait a second, someone’s sure to say it anytime now.

I write this, of course, from my iPad Pro. I bought this computer at the end of 2018 and have been using it as my primary home computing device since then. I say this not to show how committed I am to the “iPad-only lifestyle,” but to give some context to where I’m coming from.

My day job is a mix of designer and product owner, and I would not be able to do that job from an iPad. I rely on design apps like Figma, Sketch, and Photoshop, and none of those are practical to use on the iPad. I also have used tools like Keyboard Maestro, Alfred, and Pastebot to automate a lot of the menial tasks in my workflow in ways that the iPad simply can not do. I could not do my day job from my iPad (which is fine, because work provides the laptop).

I also run a YouTube channel on the side, and while I can do most of it on my iPad with amazing apps like LumaFusion, I find myself gravitating to my old Mac mini (2012) to work in ScreenFlow or Final Cut Pro. So while I could do my work from the iPad, I still choose to work from a much slower Mac.

That all sounds pretty damning, but here’s the thing: outside of those two worlds, I don’t enjoy using a Mac nearly as much as my iPad. Literally everything else I do, which admittedly is less intense “work”, happens on my iPad. Writing this post, reading the news, doing my email, doing freelance writing work, editing my photos in Lightroom, recording and editing audio, creating my newsletter, managing the tasks for my YouTube projects, watching YouTube videos, talking with friends, task management, and even coding changes to this very website all happen on the iPad.

I think that some people get caught up in their specific needs, or some made up requirement that every computing device be able to do every single thing they could ever want to do with a computer (this complaints also tend to come from developers, it’s worth noting), but fail to consider that there is a market for a product that does a smaller set of things better than the traditional PC.

Hey email is a great example of a similar thing with software. Hey is more limited than something like Gmail or Outlook in many ways, but there’s a market for that service because people don’t like those other, more robust email services as much. Much like I think there’s room in the world for software that does less, but does it better, I think there’s room for an operating system that does less, but does it better.

While some of us (lots of us, including me) thought the iPad was going to replace the Mac in time, that seems less likely today. But why is that a problem as long as the iPad stays strong on its merits and continues to grow?

To me, a developer saying the iPad doesn’t work from them is similar to a data scientist or video game streamer saying a MacBook Pro (or any laptop) doesn’t work from them. In both cases, the user needs more power to do very specific tasks. And while they technically could do some of their work on the iPad/MBP, they very much would prefer to do it on a computer more suited to that work.

I think we need to change up the conversation about the iPad. Apple sold $8.4 million worth of iPads last quarter, almost the exact same as Mac revenue. With a lower average selling price, one could safely assume more iPads were sold than Macs last quarter, so clearly people are buying these things. Do developers think most of them are going “aw man, I can’t develop iOS apps on this thing!” when they get home?

Personally, I’m hoping this next round of iPad Pro reviews avoid the “is this finally a computer?” thread that is currently present in every…single…review. Can the iPad be a “real computer”? Obviously, yes, but that’s not the question. We should be considering how new iPad hardware and software improves what the iPad already does, and expands it into new use cases.

We live in a world where we’re surrounded by computers. People have a home computer, a work computer, a phone, a watch, a smart TV, and smart speakers. Hell, even the iPad’s harshest critics often have one that they use for watching video and playing games. The iPad is the only device in that list that some people mandate has feature parity with another item on that list.

What Are we Even Debating?

What Are we Even Debating?

I was listening to the latest episode of The Talk Show today and of course, the hosts agreed on the "iPhones and iPads are consoles" position, but what baffles me is that while the show went on a for a while on how the iPad and iPhone are "app consoles" and will never be general purpose computers, they then argued that Apple should:

  1. Enable a mode that lets you run arbitrary software outside the App Store.
  2. That same mode would let you write software for the platform.
  3. Developers should be able to use their own payment methods for App Store apps if they pass certain criteria.

This all happened in the last 10 minutes of the episode and I just threw my hands in the air and exclaimed, "then what the hell are we arguing about?" If you think that the iPhone and iPad are consoles in that you think they can only run software approved by Apple, but you also think that Apple should enable users to opt out of this restriction, then what the hell are we talking about here? Macs and Windows machines can be set up (and some ship this way by default) to only run App Store apps, but users can toggle those restrictions off...what is the difference? The state of these platforms in 2008?

Header photo by Jackson Hayes on Unsplash

The iPad Cursor is an Achievement

The Magic Keyboard for iPad came out in April this year and I’ve been using it everyday. I know some people said it was more of a dock than a case, but I use it exactly the same as I did my Smart Keyboard Folio, it lives on the iPad 95% of the time and I take it everywhere.

But I digress…

This also means I’ve been using a trackpad with my iPad for the past 4 months and I have to say I truly adore it. This is not the accessibility feature that was added a few years prior, and it’s not the same thing as the Mac cursor, it’s something different and it works brilliantly on the iPad.

I don’t even have anything deep to say about it here, I just wanted to remind everyone how good it is.

And I don’t know how other people are working with it, but it’s slotted in nicely into my interactions with the iPad. I use it for some things, but I still touch the screen constantly when doing almost anything. I could do everything from the keyboard and track pad or I could do it all with touch. I end up doing a mix of everything and it’s really freeing to be able to do that and never feel like the OS is struggling to keep up with me.

Just amazing work.

Making Control Center and Notifications More Discoverable with a Cursor on the iPad

Making Control Center and Notifications More Discoverable with a Cursor on the iPad

So this is a little janky, but I mocked up a quick idea to make the options to access notifications and Control Center more discoverable when using a cursor. Here's an animated version:

The currnet UI just highlights the date/time or battery/wifi/etc blocks, and clicking on them brings up notifications or Control Center. If you don't know how this works already, you may not even be able to guess which is which, since "what happens when I click the battery icon?" isn't natually answered by either option. 🙃

Apple should spend more than 30 minutes on it and make it prettier. Also, if you decide the menu bar can expand, then you don't need to keep buttons in the same place. Hell, you could even add more things up there if you wanted, so there's quite a bit of iteration to happen here. But this was my first stab at something I hope others will take further.

My Number 1 Complaint with Working on the iPad

Bar none, the biggest issue I run into on the iPad is dealing with local storage. Like, by a mile.

I'll give you an example that happened to me tonight. I recorded some video of the new Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Remake this evening and wanted to cut together a video in LumaFusion. Should be easy, right? Usually you'd be absolutely right, but tonight I ran into an issue; my iPad showed 5GB of available storage in the Files app. Huh, that's not a lot, and I've got 35GB of footage I want to load on here.

So I do the only logical thing and look for some files to delete to make space. I find nothing, I'm not storing anything large in the "On My iPad" section of my iPad.

The next step is to check the Storage section in the Settings app to see what it thinks I have available. It says I have 146GB free and that "On My iPad" is using less than 2GB of local storage.

Try as I might, the Files app won't let me add more than 5GB of files even though the Settings app says I have tons of space (this is why I bought a 256GB iPad, after all). I can't delete anything else because there's nothing showing up in Files for me to delete and the Settings app doesn't let me do anything because it tells me I'm swimming in free space. And yes, I've gone to "Recently Deleted" in Files to actually remove the things the system hadn't purged yet.

I'm sure there is some explanation as to what's going on, but it's completely opaque to me the user. As far as I can tell, there is 141GB of space on my iPad that's being used but my iPad won't tell me what it's being used for or how I can get it back. I'm stuck.

I've rebooted, I've Googled around, I've done everything I can think of to get my space back, and I can't get it.

If this was the first time this had happened, I wouldn't write this post, but this is at least the third time I've had a remarkable discrepancy between how much space Files and Settings say I have left. It's actively preventing me from getting work done, and that's the worst thing any pro machine can do. I love the iPad because it takes care of a lot of this storage management for me, but when I need to get something done, the system is holding me back, and I can't fix it, that's when I need to be able to do something, anything to take control of my device.

Add this to my list of iPadOS 14 feature requests, I suppose.

Page 1 of 5 Older Posts