Technology

Apple finally lets you use your iPad as a real computer

Indeed, for many users an M1 iPad ought to be even more powerful than a MacBook, given it has a touch screen and a stylus: features that Apple has refused to add to the MacBook as part of its aforementioned practice of maximum profitability at the expense of maximum functionality.

But, until now (or, rather, until later this year) it’s always crippled the iPad to make it next to useless as a MacBook replacement.

Multitasking has been terribly implemented; access to the file system has been terribly restricted; and attaching a second screen to the iPad, so you can use it as a desktop computer, has been so dysfunctional, the only words we’ve come up with to describe it when we’ve reviewed it in the past are “utter madness” .

(Of course, there was always method to that madness. See “giving customers exactly what Apple needs” above.)

All that is set to change, however, and for the first time we can remember, Apple is about to give its customers of its recent M1 iPads exactly what they’ve been asking for. It’s giving us here in the Digital Life Labs everything we’ve been begging for, for years.

Attaching an external monitor to the iPad is the big one.

It means you can use the USB-C port in recent iPads to plug the tablet directly into an external display, and extend the iPad’s screen onto that display, just like you’ve been able to do for decades on just about every other computing device on the market.

(Speaking of USB-C ports, let’s just hope this refreshing new mindset at Apple extends to the iPhone this year, and that Apple’s phones will get USB-C cables just like every other phone and every other peripheral on the market. It would eat into Apple’s Lightning Cable revenues, to be sure, but it would give many, many iPhone customers the one thing they most want.)

For reasons best understood by Apple, it’s imposed a limit of eight iPad applications working simultaneously across the two screens – four on the iPad itself, and four on the external display – but that feels like a very reasonable compromise, and it’s vastly better than what you currently get, which is limited to either a simple mirror (rather than an extension) of the iPad’s screen, or to a second, maximized screen for the limited number of apps that were rewritten to take advantage of the iPad’s utterly mad screen connectivity.

Stage Manager will let you drag and drop windows around, the way you can on MacOS or WIndows machines.

None of that would be much good if the iPad still had a windowing system that only allowed full- or split-screen apps, and so Apple has fixed that too, adding its “Stage Manager” windowing system that works the way MacOS or Windows does (albeit with that eight app limit).

When iPadOS 16 comes out, you’ll be able to create windows of different sizes and drag them around with a mouse or finger so they overlap, just like you’ve been able to do with Microsoft Windows and MacOS since the 1980s.

The iPad’s Files app is changing, too, giving you more control over files so that you can do things like changing file extensions to change the app that opens them.

Oh, and you’ll even be able to change the scaling of the iPad’s screens, so you can cram more or less onto the screen depending on how good your eyesight is, and whether you forgot your glasses.

Yes, these are all simple things that other computers have been able to do forever, that have been conspicuous in their absence on the iPad. But couple them with Apple’s brilliant M1 processor and the iPad really could become the universal device many of us have been waiting for, and the best computer ever released.

And, who knows? Now that Apple seems to be listening to its customers, maybe at next year’s WWDC it will announce that the iPad can run Mac apps, the same way Macs can run iPad apps.

You’d never need to buy a notebook computer ever again. Until today (or, to be precise, later this year) Apple always seemed to view that as a problem. Maybe now it’s viewing it as an opportunity.

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