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Comment: Stage Manager on older iPads – Apple is (yet) capable of learning

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Apple has long told us that expensive M1 tablets are absolutely necessary for window management. Stage Manager on older iPads is therefore a small revolution.

Apple decided this week to bring its Stage Manager iPad feature to older iPads after all. It was a long fight – but it shows that the group is capable of learning if there is enough pressure from the users.

But first things first. Working with windows on the computer is certainly not a new invention. Apple made it popular with the Mac in the 80’s for ordinary users (before it became standard on the PC). But the useful GUI element for quickly switching between applications had been invented decades earlier, and pioneer Doug Engelbart is considered one of the fathers.

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With Apple’s mega-selling tablet iPad, on the other hand, people have been working in full screen since the first devices appeared in 2010, regardless of the size of the screen. Only multitasking features like Split View without free setting options have been added over the years. Apple didn’t want real window management at first – probably also to better distinguish the iPad from the Mac.

With iPadOS 16, that should finally change. With Stage Manager, Apple is bringing the device to run apps in individual windows for the first time. You can resize them, even the previously awful looking iPhone apps work better with them. Although the operation is a bit awkward at first due to Apple’s special solution, you quickly get used to it and increase productivity. A win-win situation for everyone, especially since the function is of course optional.

But Apple’s announcement, which came as no surprise during the WWDC 2022 developer conference in early June – the rumor mill had been rumored for a long time – was quickly followed by disillusionment: the group apparently wanted to use Stage Manager to boost sales of its younger iPads. Because, as software boss Craig Federighi officially announced: Window management is so performance-hungry that only iPads with the latest chip, i.e. the M1, are suitable for Stage Manager.

That meant: only the iPad Pro M1 from 2021 (with 11 and 12.9 inches) and the iPad Air 5 (from spring 2022) should be ready for windowing. Federighi garnished this with plenty of technobabble: Speaking to the IT blog TechCrunch, he said that only the M1 iPads combine “the high DRAM capacity with NAND modules of very high capacity and high performance, which enable our virtual memory swapping [VMS] super fast”. In practical terms, this means that you can switch back and forth between eight apps, which are then “immediately responsive” and have “a lot of memory” available. “We simply don’t have these options on other systems.”

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The argument of “Hair Force One”, as Federighi once jokingly called himself, was soon publicly refuted: because it turned out that Stage Manager should also run on the cheapest iPad Air 5, which has an M1 chip but no VMS because there is not enough memory is available. At the same time it became known that there is apparently a switch with which Stage Manager can also be activated on older (“legacy”) devices; at least this should have been possible for Apple’s developers.

Then it was initially a bit quiet in terms of windows on the iPad. iPadOS 16 was postponed to October, which was apparently also justified internally by Apple due to further work on Stage Manager. Finally, the real hammer came this week: Stage Manager should now suddenly run on older iPads.

This is amazing chalk munching on Apple’s part. All the fervent arguments against window management on non-M1 devices were obviously wrong. This can already be seen in the first tests with the latest iPadOS 16 beta, which already includes Stage Manager for older models: The window management works as you would imagine, at most tiny delays are noticeable from time to time, but they are also with the beta stand may have to do. The distribution of windows on external monitors is only reserved for M1 devices. However, Apple removed the feature completely from the beta and now wants to add it again “later”. That means: Stage Manager has the same status, whether with M1 or without.

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I think it’s good that Apple is proving to be capable of learning here. It shows that you are responding to pressure from users – and in a timely manner. Nevertheless, the question must be allowed, what the whole nonsense was supposed to be. The M1 devices are no longer particularly new. The iPad Pro M1 is from 2021 and will probably be replaced by the M2 next October. Well, maybe Stage Manager would have enticed someone to buy this year’s iPad Air M1 specifically. But to alienate old, loyal Pro owners in this way was simply completely unnecessary for Apple’s management. (Presumably Stage Manager would even run on standard iPads or the iPad mini 6; but they have to stay further out.)

Stage Manager now also works well on older iPad Pro devices that have an A12X or A12Z instead of the M1. Support is now going back to as much as 2018! That alone shows that the decision to reserve Stage Manager only for M1 devices was marketing-driven. And that doesn’t have to be the case, Apple – you wanted to become more sustainable?

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