In the first installment of the iOS 11 Wishlist, I took a look at some ways that Apple can improve its existing Multitasking app selector on the latest iPads. This week, its time to look at a feature that is long overdue, but may finally get the attention it deserves- User Accounts.
Separate User Accounts has been one of the most common unfulfilled requests for the iPad for the last two or three years for a couple of reasons. FIrst off, all of the competition already has some sort of User Account system. In fact, both Android and Amazon’s skinned variation of the same have both had this feature for a while now. Of course, Microsoft’s Windows has had this feature for decades, and since the Surface runs full Windows, it has the advantage of such proven power user features. Whatever the case, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Apple is very late to the party here.
The other reason that User Accounts keep coming up in reference to the iPad is because of how tablets are typically used. A new lower-cost addition to the lineup aside, iPads aren’t exactly inexpensive. They never have been, and likely never will be. As such, they tend to be multi-use devices among families. Raise your hand if your significant other loves to hog your favorite tablet, or if your kids get a WHOLE LOT more screen time on the family iPad than you do. We are using them the way we used to use traditional computers, because they now handle a lot of the simple tasks that PCs and Macs used to be charged with in the home. Things like web browsing, email, gaming, bills and budgeting, and video and music streaming are just easier on a portable, instant-on device that has great battery life.
Unfortunately, there are issues with several people mixing and matching tasks, apps, and information on one device. How do you keep a good handle on parental controls for younger children without driving yourself crazy? This becomes an even greater challenge with children of different ages. How about keeping apps and data segregated in a situation where you may have multiple iTunes and/or iCloud accounts? It can be a real mess.
These kinds of issues are the very reasons that User Accounts have existed for many years on both Windows and the Mac. They are also the reasons that Google and Amazon put in the work to get ahead of the game and beat Apple to the punch on this feature. So why has Apple held off implementing this in iOS thus far? I have a theory that seems fairly obvious. Apple decided to focus their efforts on higher-end users with their iPad Pro devices the last two years, rather than the home users who had already stopped buying or upgrading their tablets in droves. These users are going to be less likely to be sharing devices, so a separate User Accounts feature simply became a lower priority. Unfortunately for Apple, the Air 2 and Mini 4 remained their best selling devices, despite all of the marketing and push being behind the iPad Pros.
With the release of the new iPad, I see a shift starting to take shape. I think that Apple is drawing a clearer line between its consumer and professional tablets, and is renewing its focus on the more price-conscious side of the market. The Air 2 was too close to the 9.7″ Pro in features and size, and too expensive because of it. Based on what I have seen while briefly testing the device recently, it is clear that Apple is now trying to strike the best balance between solid performance and features and cutting the cost to a point where both existing iPad users and potential new ones will pull the trigger. With this renewed interest in the consumer end of the tablet market, I am hoping that User Accounts will become a high priority for iOS.
There is another reason to hope that User Accounts will be coming to iOS soon, as well. In a small way, they already have. Apple is also positioning the new iPad as their primary device for the education market. They have been taking a beating at the hands of cheaper devices like Chromebooks, but this response looks like it should help at least stem the tide. However, even before this year, Apple was thinking about the features it needed to implement to continue to compete in the classroom. They released the Shared iPad feature in iOS 9.3, which includes the ability to log in using separate User Accounts on an iPad.
However, this isn’t quite what typical users who want this feature have been looking for. It has to be managed through an education market- specific server and an external application for classroom use. As such, while the accounts are cached on the device for faster switching between users, they do not actually exist on the iPad. While the Shared iPad feature is a good step in the right direction, it is just a step. It is more of a work-around to solve a specific problem for the education market than a true solution.
That said, the existence of Shared iPad along with the release of the new iPad, a device obviously designed with the consumer and education markets specifically in mind, points to the possibility that this feature is coming soon. I personally predict that User Accounts will become a more fully-baked, on-device feature of iOS 11. This isn’t make or break for Apple, by any means, but it is definitely one of those features that iPad users have been waiting a long time for. It’s time Apple. Make it happen.
Would separate User Accounts on the iPad and other iOS devices make your life easier? Is this something you have been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for in iOS? Let me know what you think in the Commensts section below, on Flipboard, Facebook, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog or @jhrogersii.