iPadOS 17 Amplifies Stage Manager’s Functionality, Yet A Few Elements Still Fall Short

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Will Young

Apple introduced Stage Manager last year, an effort to cater to iPad users seeking a desktop-like, multi-window experience. While the Stage Manager’s debut provided this feature, it did so with notable limitations. With the advent of iPadOS 17, Stage Manager has shown significant improvement, although certain aspects leave room for longing.

Understanding iPad and Stage Manager

Let’s revisit what Stage Manager is all about. It allows iPad users to handle their apps as floating windows on the screen, similar to macOS or Windows functionality. These windows can be resized and repositioned, enhancing user flexibility. For the first time, Stage Manager permits users to connect their iPad to an external display to use as a secondary monitor, going beyond merely mirroring the iPad screen.

However, Stage Manager 1.0 in iPadOS 16 came with its fair share of constraints. The window resizing and repositioning options were rather restricted. Additionally, it only enabled users to open up to four apps on the iPad and a maximum of eight apps when connected to an external display.

Such limitations may seem satisfactory to the average user, but when compared to macOS, which allows an unlimited number of open windows, the restrictions become more evident. Also, users cannot turn off the iPad’s screen to exclusively use it with an external display, despite having an external keyboard and mouse connected.

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Exploring What’s New with iPadOS 17

As highlighted by my fellow reporter, Chance Miller, iPadOS 17 has significantly amplified the Stage Manager experience. There’s greater freedom to move windows around the screen, and app resizing has become more flexible. Although it doesn’t match macOS’s flexibility yet, it’s a commendable start.

Apple now enables users to Shift-click app icons, similar to Mac, adding new windows to the workspace. With this, along with increased window resizing and placement freedom, the Stage Manager experience has become considerably more usable on the iPad.

As shared in WWDC 2023, iPadOS 17 supports USB webcams or microphones connected via the USB-C port. A new API in the iPadOS 17 SDK allows developers to leverage these accessories in their apps.

While the combination of these enhancements leads to a superior multitasking experience on the iPad, there are two macOS features I find missing when using Stage Manager on my iPad.

Missing Features in Stage Manager

For me, the absence of clamshell mode is a significant drawback of Stage Manager. Normally, you can plug a laptop into an external display, keyboard, and mouse, then close the lid to use it as a desktop. Unfortunately, even with these accessories, the iPad’s built-in screen must remain on constantly.

Although my colleague Fernando Silva managed to enable clamshell mode on his iPad running iPadOS 17 beta 1, I haven’t been successful in doing so. Whether this is a bug remains uncertain, but I’m hopeful that clamshell mode will eventually be incorporated into iPadOS.

Another drawback is Stage Manager’s restriction of using the connected external display as your iPad’s audio source. This prohibits users from choosing the iPad’s built-in speakers when connected to a display, posing a problem when the display’s speakers are inadequate or non-existent.

Moreover, the iPad interface could benefit from a minor update to maximize the use of external displays in conjunction with a keyboard and mouse. Currently, the audio output menu covers the entire screen, blurring all other apps behind it.

Final Thoughts

Apple has been progressively updating iPadOS to exploit the full potential of iPad hardware. Although the iPad is yet to match a Mac in terms of software capabilities, iPadOS 17 seems to be a

stride in the right direction.

iPadOS 17’s first beta is now accessible to developers, with a public beta expected this summer and the official release anticipated this fall. The Apple Developer website provides more details on how to install the beta update.

For an in-depth review of Stage Manager’s new features in iPadOS 17, I recommend Federico Viticci’s article on MacStories, detailing his experience with the update.

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