If the iPad Air 3 lacks any killer new hardware features, what about special software capabilities? It seems pretty clear that Apple isn't going to release a hybrid operating system anytime soon, but iOS doesn't have to be as limiting as Apple makes it. Year after year, Apple has stopped short of adding iPad-only features, and as iOS matures, very little about it feels as though it was built with a tablet-sized screen in mind.
The most obvious change is multitasking. As it stands, multitasking on iOS amounts to little more than switching between apps via the carousel. It's a fine solution (made even quicker on the iPad with the five-finger "claw" gesture), but it pales in comparison to multitasking on OS X. It's one of the starkest differences between the way we work on our Macs and our tablets; something as simple as copying text or comparing images requires several steps on the iPad, and the constant back-and-forth motion stymies any real attempt at multitasking.
It's not just an overdue feature, it's probably the most sought-after one since copy and paste, and if done right, it could give the iPad a much-needed boost in the productivity department. Side-by-side apps is the obvious choice, but Apple could also tap into the sharing and action extensions in iOS to develop an entirely new way of multitasking, with in-app browsers and notepads that pop up when Force Touch is implemented.
Despite its abilities, there's still an overall perception that the iPad is a secondary device, used for small tasks and consuming content, rather than doing actual work. To that end, Apple recently launched an ad campaign to spotlight the myriad ways to get things done on the iPad. But to position it as a powerful device that "changes everything," Apple should build a closer relationship between the iPad and the Mac.
We've seen glimpses of how nicely the two can play together with things like Handoff and Continuity, but with a screen closer in size to the one on the new MacBook than the iPhone 6 Plus, the iPad is in a unique position. Even if Apple never adapts OS X for multitouch, it could still merge the two OSes and transform the iPad into a versatile device that adapts to however you happen to be working.
The key lies in embracing VNC. For years, Apple Remote Desktop has allowed IT professionals to keep tabs on dozens of Macs at once, but Apple has been reluctant to bring its monitoring app to iOS. Apps like Screens and Splashtop already offer easy ways to access your Mac's screen, but a solution baked into iOS would seriously up the ante for the iPad, both as a production and a multitasking tool. Being able to quickly access files on your Mac would be one thing, but Apple could let you access your iPhone's screen too, solving many of the frustrations we have with the one-app-at-a-time model.
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