An early look at Stage Manager for iPadOS 16

Apple's annual developer conference kicked off in style yesterday, bringing with it a bounty of exciting new features and framework announcements that will be made available to users later this year. Each one of Apple's five major platforms gained new functionality, but I'm most interested in what's coming to iPadOS 16.

By far the headline feature is Stage Manager. Available on tablets with an M1 chip, this window manager offers a whole new way to multitask with multiple resizable windows and full external display support.

iPadOS 16 beta Stage Manager demo.

Apps can be adjusted and moved into whatever position makes sense for the task at hand. Windows can be grouped together and management is logical to work with.

Users can make handwritten notes with a pencil, scrub through a revision video and take a practice exam, all on the same screen. Doing this without switching back and forth between contexts feels completely natural. Laptops have been able to do this for decades of course, but now it is possible within the convenient form factor of a tablet.

Graphic content

It is wonderful to see that iPadOS 16 drops support for the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4. This means thats developers no longer need to deal with the ancient A8 and A8X chips present within those devices.

The A8 debuted all the way back in 2014 and somehow remained supported by iPadOS seven long years later. Today its graphics processor puffs and wheezes its way through even the most trivial modern graphics task. It is time that creators are able to move forward and target an elevated baseline.

Collective memory

One limitation when using iPad for professional work was the lack of system level virtual memory paging. This has, for example, notably held back progress of the tablet version of Photoshop. Thankfully, with iPadOS 16, disk storage can be used to expand the available memory for apps.

Already the developers of Pixelmator have confirmed that this will open up more pro functionality.

"That was one of the reasons we couldn't bring the entire Pixelmator Pro experience (nondestructive editing, specifically) to iPad, yeah. But Virtual Memory Swap does make that much more feasible! Of course, there are other factors, but this was a big one." - Pixelmator Team

I am only scratching the surface here - there are many, many more smaller details to dig into - but this was a great WWDC for iPad.

Follow up article: Read more about external display support after the release of iOS 16.2.