Multitasking on the iPad Pro

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One of my primary reasons in testing the iPad Pro was to see how much of a difference it would make to multitasking. I was playing around with a few apps in Split View on my iPad Air 2, but it was more like a mode that I would activate intermittently — not my default way to work. Split View came in really handy as I finished articles up on the Air 2. I’d split iA Writer and Safari and copy links across the two halves of the screen, without ever having to leave the app. This was a lot less work than tabbing back and forth between the apps in iOS 8.

Portrait of Two iPads

The iPad Pro’s gargantuan screen is large enough to display two full iPad apps in landscape mode. I say “full” because running two apps in Split View on the Air 2 will result in two iPhone-class apps running adjacent to one another. For some apps this just means the sidebar will disappear, but it can be a more drastic difference in other apps. Safari, for example, stops displaying tabs along the top of the screen and adopts the tab button (displayed along the bottom bar) of the iPhone version of the app. These UI changes can be a little jarring, even though the content of the app stays the same.

It has to be said that multitasking on the Pro is just silky smooth if you’re just using touch. The Air 2 isn’t slow, but the Pro is like butter. There are some really great combos I’ve played around with over the past week:

  • Safari + Evernote for note-taking
  • Safari + Procreate for drawing
  • iA Writer + OmniFocus 2 for attacking work
  • Tweetbot + Messages for idle chatting while I watch TV

This doesn’t look like much when I condense these app combinations into bullet points, but it’s the first use case that has proven really interesting to me. Having a full-width version of Evernote beside my browser has been indispensable for doing research. I’m thinking about a trip to Japan next year and I made copious use of Split View to copy itineraries from Safari into Evernote for later comparison. Things got even better once I added the Pencil to the equation because I no longer had to disrupt the flow of researching and writing.

It has also been very useful to write a draft outline in bullet points and have that displayed beside iA Writer on the Pro. I usually do a 75/25 split in these cases, as I like having a lot of room for text. But it’s a lot better than keeping my outline below the text, which is how I used to work on the Air 2.

Pro Optimization

The only downside to getting used to Split View is that you really notice when it doesn’t work. We’re still waiting on Google apps like Hangouts, YouTube, and the entire Google Docs suite to support iOS 9 multitasking. These apps are starting to be a thorn in my side because they will always launch in full-screen and they aren’t optimized for the iPad Pro’s larger screen (so the UI is just a blown-up iPad Air 2 UI). This will eventually be solved over the coming months as apps catch up to iOS 9, but it does affect my workflow in the mean time.

The Split View Launcher Already Feels Outdated

For the purposes of discussing Split View in this article, the primary app is the one running on the left side of the screen (using the existing card-view app switcher), while the secondary app runs on the right (and uses the Split View switcher).

With that said, I stand by what I wrote a few months ago: the Split View launcher isn’t designed to scale. Swiping down on the secondary app to reveal a single column of app icons just sucks. It’s slow, there’s no way to activate search, and you end up having to scroll through a very long list of icons if you haven’t used a particular app in a while. I only mention that in this article to state that: yes, this still sucks, even on the iPad Pro. Perhaps especially on the iPad Pro because you’ll want to do more multitasking on this device.

Preserving App States in Split View

It’s taking me a while to learn how iOS treats the secondary app in Split View. Let’s take an instance where Safari is my primary app and OmniFocus 2 is running as the secondary. If I press the Home button and check Google Hangouts (which does not support Split View), Hangouts will display as a fullscreen iPad app. I could still load OmniFocus 2 over Hangouts at this point, but only as a SlideOver app (which basically runs it as a layer on top of my current primary app). Still with me?

split view mechanics

Here’s where it can get a little disorienting, and it’s the part that I’m still trying to get used to. Once I’m done in Hangouts I’ll press the Home button and want to get back to what I was doing before (Safari + OmniFocus 2). I could tap the Safari icon, but since OmniFocus 2 was loaded as well, I should also be able to tap on that.

What I expect when I tap on OmniFocus 2 is to return to my previous setup: Safari as primary and OmniFocus 2 as the secondary app. That was the layout I had specifically set up before I went to check Hangouts. As a user I expect that iOS will remember and respect state that I left my apps in.

However, what actually happens when I tap on OmniFocus 2 is that it loads up and displays full-screen. There are no secondary apps, just OmniFocus 2. In order to turn OmniFocus 2 back into a secondary app I have to go back to Safari, reactivate Split View, and tap the black divider bar to finalize the arrangement.

I think I understand Apple’s logic here — that any icon you tap on the home screen will become a full-screen app — but I don’t think it plays very well with how multitasking is presented on iOS 9. Apple is obviously trying to offer a sense of app persistence in multitasking with Split View and Picture-in-Picture. However, I think this current implementation misses the mark.

A better solution would be to allow two ways to return to my Split View setup. I should be able to tap either Safari or OmniFocus 2 to return to my custom arrangement: Safari as primary, OmniFocus 2 as secondary.

The Best Split View Use Case

I haven’t had terribly long with the iPad Pro, but I have had a few months’ experience with Split View with the iOS 9 beta on my iPad Air 2. So I know that Split View works smoothly without any lag on the Air 2 and Pro, but that it has some significant gaps while using a hardware keyboard. There are times when keyboard shortcuts need a few seconds to respond after you switch to an app, and other instances where keyboard shortcuts just don’t work (I’m looking at you, Spotlight!).

So my recommendation for taking full advantage of Split View on the Pro is to stick to a Smart Cover and Pencil. This keeps you from having to reach all the way up to the top of the iPad Pro’s 13-inch screen to hit “Done” or tap a search result. iOS in its current iteration heavily favours the finger over the keystroke. Luckily, the software keyboard experience on the iPad Pro is pretty good, so a sans-keyboard setup can work out.

In my final iPad Pro article I plan to talk all about the Apple Pencil and how I think it helps to define this device (far more than the Smart Keyboard does). Working with Split View and a Pencil for notetaking really is a different and markedly improved multitasking experience that no other device can replicate.

More on that soon! :)


Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

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