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Multitasking in iOS 9 makes the iPad a true post-PC device

Michael Simon | June 16, 2015
The iPad has always been a paradox. While it may have been built to fill the rather sizable gap between the iPhone and Mac, it never really embraced its own identity, playing second fiddle to each of the devices it was stuck between. Consequently, Apple's mighty tablet has never quite been able to live up to the lofty expectations it created as the de facto leader of the post-PC revolution.

But the most exciting piece of the iPad's new multitasking options is Picture In Picture. If you're watching a video or making a FaceTime call, you can shrink it and move it around just as you would a QuickTime window on your Mac — except it's smart enough to resize itself and always stays as the topmost window so it won't get lost under another app. It's the first feature to break free from the full-screen mold, and it has the potential to fundamentally change iOS almost as much as Siri has.

Scratching the surface

Had I not seen it on the WWDC stage, the iPad's multitasking optionsmost notably Picture in Picturewould seem like someone's fantastical iOS concept video, a brilliant idea that just wouldn't be possible in reality. But much like the Siri demo opened our eyes to how voice control could eventually take over navigation and dictation, it's not hard to imagine a future incarnation where a notepad or calculator could offer the same floating functionality, elevating the iPad to new heights of productivity.

It's the closest thing to desktop multitasking that I've seen on a tablet and it portends as bright a future for the iPad as it's ever had. If the generations-old A7 chip can already handle playing continuous video while jumping in and out of apps, future generations will be able to handle a far greater load, bringing us ever closer to the day where we can choose between full-screen and floating apps, just like on our Macs.

And once that happens, we won't need a hybrid machine like the Surface; the iPad will be powerful and capable enough to handle all of our day-to-day computing needs, reserving our Macs for more processor intensive tasks like Photoshop or Final Cut.

Typecast no more

The keyboard is one of the greatest multitasking tools we have on our Macs, letting us switch apps and find hidden documents with just a few strokes. But even with iOS 8's QuickType and third-party keyboards, the iPad keyboard isn't an asset to productivity. Keyboards like Fleksy and Swype that are built to input text faster with one finger aren't helpful on the larger screen, and with the exception of some clever in-app implementations, I haven't found any that are helpful when navigating or selecting text.

It's an area where the multitouch can offer an advantage. Efficiency on our MacBooks is about doing as much as we can without lifting our hands off of the keyboard, and Apple is finally bringing that mentality to the iPad. iOS 9's new iPad keyboard opens the whole system up to faster productivity with a series of shortcuts that flank the predictive text options. Along with the shortcut buttons, the keyboard can also double as a trackpad so you don't have to fumble with the text selection handles. And if you use a Bluetooth keyboard there are OS X-like keystroke shortcuts for quick app-switching and searching.


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