Apple announced Stage Manager for iPadOS at WWDC yesterday. While the feature isn't as groundbreaking as multitasking support or the ability to use a mouse on an iPad, it has sparked discussion about the viability of the iPad as a laptop replacement.
One of our friends from iMore, Bryan Wolfe, asked if Stage Manager makes the iPad a MacBook alternative. I'm asking if it lets the iPad replace a PC.
For those that didn't tune into WWDC, Stage Manager is an organization tool that automatically lays out apps on a display. Active windows are featured prominently while other apps rest behind. It also has a task view-esque app switcher on the left and adds the ability to resize windows.
Stage Manager doesn't bring the flexibility of Windows 11 to the iPad, but it's a step in that direction. The feature also unlocks full external display support for iPadOS on supported devices. That last feature is what inspired this whole article, as it's driven me to purchase an iPad over a Windows PC the next time I grab a new device (don't worry, I'm still going to use a PC as well).
Mobile Up vs. Desktop Down
Before I get into why my next productivity machine will be an iPad, I'll recap the history of tablets a bit.
From the get-go, Microsoft and Apple took fundamentally different approaches to tablet operating systems. Microsoft took the desktop interface and feature set and scaled it down to a tablet, trimming the fat and optimizing the classic PC experience for touch and mobility. Apple scaled up the mobile-optimized iOS to the tablet, adding features each year to improve productivity.
Both of these approaches have strengths and weaknesses. For example, iOS lacked proper mouse support for years and just gained the ability to resize and place windows over each other. On the plus side, iPadOS is less bloated and is built with touch in mind.
Windows 11 and its predecessors brought the full power of the PC to the tablet. That makes devices like the Surface Pro 8 great productivity machines, but subpar as dedicated tablets.
Over the last few years, the line between Apple's mobile up and Microsoft's desktop down approaches has blurred.
Why Stage Manager pushed me over the top
I've always preferred the iPad as a dedicated tablet. But I've held back from investing in one because it doesn't meet my productivity needs. Based on yesterday's announcements at WWDC, iPadOS has closed the gap in several key areas.
I don't care much about the task view-style app switcher on the left side of the screen. To be honest, I prefer the swiping approach of Windows on that front. What did it for me was the ability to extend a desktop to an external monitor.
By extending an iPad to a second display, I get what Apple has held back for years, the proper combination of the desktop and the iPad. Apple still won't bring touch to the Mac, but with iPadOS, it brings the iPad to the desktop, at least a little bit.
With iPadOS 16, I'll be able to use the Apple Pencil and touch to create on an iPad and then drag the creation up to the desktop to refine things with a mouse. This is a common workflow for me on Windows but has required multiple devices on the Apple side of things up to this point.
With Stage Manager, I get to maintain my workflow that requires multiple forms of input without having to pick up a second device. I can then detach my iPad from my monitor and keep the superior tablet experience delivered by iPadOS.
If all I used a tablet for was drawing, I could easily stick with Windows and pair my PC with one of the best drawing tablets. But for me, it's about having the best tablet experience around, a drawing setup, and the ability to record and view media all with just one device.
I know that Stage Manager is limited. It only supports one external monitor and it's restricted to four apps at once. But I rarely use more than four apps simultaneously and my desk only has a single monitor, so I'm okay with the limitations. I understand it may not work for others. Stage Manager pushed me over the top, but others will still prefer the best Windows tablets.
The great thing about having tech giants compete is that we all win, at least on some level. Consumers now have a choice between an iPad that's gained productivity features and Windows tablets that have been improved for touch getting things done on the go.
Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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