I’m sure some will disagree with me on its importance, but there is a feature that iPad power users have wanted for years that is close enough to feel within reach now. If you look at the evolution of the iPad Pro over the last 18 months, it also makes perfect sense. Everything required for this to work properly is now lined up and in place. The feature I want to see added to iPadOS right now more than any other is multi-screen support.
Before anyone rushes to the comments to tell me that the iPad already supports multiple displays, may I remind you how limited this feature currently is, and always has been. The iPad has had the ability to duplicate its screen to another source since the original launch back in 2010. However, duplicating the screen is all an iPad has been capable of over the last ten years. The only major addition over that time has been the addition of AirPlay for wireless screen transmission to an Apple TV. While this is a perfect aid for presentations and a handy method to throw a video you want to share up on the big screen, that’s just about all it’s good for. Now is a perfect time for that to change.
The progression of new iPad Pro hardware and software features seems to be leading directly to enhanced multi-display support. First, Apple switched the 2018 iPad Pro’s port from Lightning to USB-C, making it easier to charge and connect multiple accessories at the same time. This of course includes displays. For example, the USB-C hub shown in the picture above has both HDMI and VGA ports, making it easy to connect to just about any monitor.
Apple’s new Magic Keyboard will extend this capability further when it arrives next month. It includes another USB-C port that can pass-through charge the iPad Pro, opening up the port on the tablet to use exclusively with accessories. This will make connecting an external display to an iPad Pro even easier.
While the addition of USB-C made physically connecting an external display more practical, there were still software roadblocks in iPadOS to extending the screen, rather than just duplicating it. Since the vast majority of external displays available are not touch-enabled, there used to be no way to manipulate whatever you might want to display on a second screen. Without a way to control the content, there was no point in adding display extension in the past.
However, this situation changed two weeks ago when Apple released trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4. With additions of a cursor and a secondary input method, power users now have the ability to manipulate everything on the screen without having to use touch. Touchpad support was the last domino that needed to fall to make extending content across multiple displays a useful feature on the iPad.
So what could we do with an extended display on an iPad? As well as multitasking apps in split screen works, especially on larger iPads, the ability to connect an external display would take things to another level. If you are working with multiple documents, the extra real estate you get extending to a external monitor greatly enhances the experience and is easier on the eyes. If you are researching a topic, you can have multiple sources open on one screen in Safari while you write or take notes on the other. If you are all about work and play at the same time, forget the small, floating video window. With an extended display, just move your full-size Netflix window over and you’re good.
Some of you who spend most of your time on a desktop or laptop may be scoffing at this, since traditional computers and OSs have been capable of all the things listed above for many years. That’s fair. However, with iPadOS, we are talking about an operating system that is still evolving into something more than it started out as. This is about extending the capabilities of hardware that has proven to be both extremely popular and powerful over the last 10 years.
As iPadOS continues to expand and add features, it makes sense that it will add features that have been part of the traditional computing experience for a long time. The iPad is already capable of becoming the primary computing device for many users who don’t have specialized needs. Apple’s goal now has to be adding on the features that will tip that scale for more and more users over time.
Along those lines, there has been a steady march of new iPad features geared toward pro and power users over the last few years. Features like Multitasking, ProMotion, TrueTone Color, the Apple Pencil, and again, USB-C have pushed the platform forward and started to change the way people look at the iPad as a computing device. It isn’t just the “3rd device” that sits between a laptop and a smartphone anymore. It hasn’t fully arrived and still has plenty of room for polish, but the iPad and iPadOS are on the road to becoming much more than what they started as.
The ability to extend the usable workspace across external displays feels like the logical next step toward making the iPad Pro a legitimately pro computing experience. It’s been getting closer and closer and iPadOS 14 seems like the perfect time to make this frequent power user request a reality. No matter what form WWDC takes this year, I am betting this will be one of the announced new features in iPadOS 14.