iOS 11 multitasking for iPad and the case for new muscle memory

Like Federico Viticci, Fraser Speirs, and others, I’m a big fan of my iPad and have worked over the last couple years to go iPad-only (or, in my case for now, -mostly). I’ve spent a good amount of time with the iOS 11 public beta on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and I’m really excited about the potential this OS has to bring more interest to the iPad as a platform, and rejuvenate the strong body of apps that’s there.

But the multitasking and drag-and-drop. Oh lordy, the multitasking and drag-and-drop.

Split View and Picture in Picture were great additions in iOS 9, but they were clearly intended to get our feet wet with these ideas. We were generally limited to two apps on screen, with an optional third if you watch a video in Picture in Picture. The second app defaulted to a column on the right—not left—and could only be expanded to take up half the display. No drag and drop meant a number of tedious taps if you wanted to simply bring an image from Safari on one side into a note on the other.

iOS 11 will blow the roof off this, build you a new roof to make amends, and then blow that roof off just to drive the point home. For a practical example, check out a GIF of my current, fairly simple workflow below. I’m:

  • Writing in Ulysses on the left
  • Occasionally distracting myself with Tweetbot on the right
  • Using Safari in a Slide Over to check details and grab links
  • Sometimes I have a video app in the upper right playing Venture Bros or Cyeye videos of Vainglory

iOS 11 Split View example

I don’t always work with this much stuff going on (you can breathe now, Shawn Blanc), but this kind of setup is great for all kinds of traditional workflows. Plus, I haven’t even gotten to using drag-and-drop that much yet, mostly because this is still a beta and store apps simply can’t update to support it yet.

I like iOS, Split View, and 11’s roof-bursting improvements because they hit the reset button on the tediousness of doing this on a Mac.

I’ve always found resizing and moving windows to feel like cumbersome busywork. A larger problem is that, to me, most Mac apps have never felt like they were designed to work alongside each other. It seems like there’s always been this cognitive dissonance between the potential of the Mac’s big, beautiful screen space and multitasking.

Apps are often designed by people with big 21-30-inch displays, or at least 15-inch MacBook Pros. Rarely have I felt a strong sense that they were tested at any size smaller than “most of that big-ass display.” But when I’ve wanted to, say, collect photos from Safari into a note in Evernote, or simply a Finder folder, manually resizing those two windows for side-by-side cooperation always felt fairly janky, at best. Sidebars get scrunched to sizes they clearly weren’t tested for, or file and folder names get cut off.

I’m not pitching that iOS has found some ultimate solution or that 11 will be The One For Everyone. But I like that Apple had the #hashtag courage to go back to the drawing board on the foundations of so many workflows to explore better, or at least other, ways for a broader audience. Apple has been iterating, and iOS 11 is a massive leap towards realizing the benefits of all that work.

If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re a fan of working on the iPad or at least open to becoming one. I don’t recommend trying the 11 beta. But once it ships this fall, I definitely recommend bringing your workflows and an open mind to what might be an enlightening experience. Multitasking works very differently in iOS 11. Spend some time to learn some new habits and muscle memory. It’ll be worth it.