iPadOS 15 Initial Impressions

I watched yesterday’s WWDC 2021 Keynote while spinning the 44 lb flywheel on my spin bike, so I was not 100% focused on Federighi and company. I also made the mistake of having my Apple Event Twitter list and the Six Colors slack open on my iPad on the bike’s tablet holder, which further diluted my attention and just made me grumpy at people whining about their favorite hobby horses1. I get grumpy at online interactions when I’m working out (or just working), which is why I usually try to avoid them. But hey, WWDC!

Anyway, my low expectations for Apple to deliver on my hopes for iPadOS combined with my body’s preoccupation with exercise meant that I didn’t do a lot of serious reflecting on what Apple showed for iPadOS 15 while watching it. I just reacted, with great joy. Better multitasking!! Building iPad apps on iPad!! YES!!

But as often happens with Apple, both time and absorption of the actual details of whatever they’ve announced can temper one’s enthusiasm. That’s how I feel now. On the Upgrade podcast, Jason Snell brilliantly compared the iPad situation to Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football. It should be fairly apparent who plays Charlie Brown and who plays Lucy in this annual game of iPad football.

This year, Apple ripped away the football of improved iPadOS power and pro Apple apps on iPad, and instead gave us full-screen widget customization, better multitasking, and the promise of a to-be-determined level of app development on iPad.

I do not want to downplay any of those improvements. They were much needed. They are, frankly, the absolute minimum Apple could have gotten away with without causing me to commit seppuku in front of my TV. App creation on iPad alone is huge, in theory. But now that I’ve used iPadOS 15 for a few hours, I’m not depressed so much as just not bowled over.

I also have serious concerns about what the apps you’ll be able to create with Swift Playgrounds on iPad will be like or what limitations that will have compared to Xcode on Mac based on the little they showed us in the State of the Union video. That will continue to be a question until they release Swift Playgrounds 4 later this summer.

Really all we have at this point is widgets anywhere (very nice) and a less confusing but functionally identical multitasking system. This is great for people who were confused by iPad multitasking and using the iPad to get work done in general, but most of the people who were actually willing to put the time in to figure out the differences between macOS and iPadOS already had it down.

I honestly don’t think the people who believe you can’t get work done on the iPad or who want macOS on iPad are suddenly going to become amazing iPad power users just because multitasking is more convenient and slightly more discoverable. I think the same people will be spewing the same narrative that the iPad can’t be used for work, even for things as amenable to an iPad workflow as writing.

Also, at this point there’s nothing to indicate why Apple decided to release an iPad with a CPU labeled M1, the same as in the Apple Silicon Macs, besides the fact that it can. I don’t know if Apple has another shoe to drop at some point or if they’ve already shown their hand, but it seems like naming the cpu in the 2021 iPad Pro M1 is meant to send a message. It does send a message, whether Apple intended it to or not.

I actually like iPadOS 15 a lot, partly because I liked how App Library and widgets worked on iOS already. Yes, I do like the new multitasking UI better as well, but for me it’s not immediately life-changing. Time will tell how much it helps other people come around to the iPadOS way of doing things.

Before I can feel too much relief about the progress of the iPad in 2021, I need to get my hands on Swift Playgrounds 4 and find out what it can actually do and what its inevitable limitations will be. If it turns out to be powerful enough to make an app worth putting in the App Store, that will go a long way towards turning my skepticism back to optimism.

I would love nothing more.

  1. People in a slack I was in literally thought Apple wasn’t going to talk about macOS just because (surprise!) they covered topics sequentially and had to pick an order to talk about them in. ↩︎