When Apple introduced the M1 iPad Pro, it begged the question: Why would Apple put the same processor that comes in a MacBook Air, into an iPad if it isn't going to do more. Surely, the M1 is overkill for a tablet. It's way more powerful than what is required for any of the things you can do on an iPad.
Some people even thought Apple might be getting ready to let the iPad Pro run macOS. Then, Apple put the M1 in the 2022 iPad Air, which is kind of wild when you consider the iPad Air is the middle-of-the-line iPad, and it's sporting the same internals as the world's most popular laptop. At a minimum, an iPad with the M1 should be able to do more Mac-like things, like, perhaps, real multitasking.
Finally, at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) earlier this month, Apple delivered just that. Well, sort of.
It wasn't what a lot of people were asking for--to let the iPad Pro run macOS. Instead, Apple released what it calls Stage Manager in iPadOS 16, which is sort of an interesting in-between version of multitasking with a side shelf containing four different apps or groups of apps.
Stage Manager lets you have up to four apps per "stage," and you can adjust the size of different apps--they can even overlap. You can also connect an external monitor, and instead of mirroring the iPad's display, you can have four more apps active.
There's just one catch--it only works on iPads with an M1. That means if you have anything other than a 2021 iPad Pro, or a 2022 iPad Air, you're out of luck. You can imagine anyone who bought an iPad Pro in 2018 or 2020, both of which are very capable devices, might be a bit mad.
Many of them have expressed their frustration, claiming Apple is wrong for limiting the most requested feature on the iPad to devices sold in the last year. Except, it seems strange now that Apple is finally adding features that require the M1, that people are complaining that the M1 iPads can do what older models can't.
I'm not arguing that people who have older iPads--especially iPad Pros that are only a few years old--shouldn't want them to continue to do all the things. That's only natural when you spend a lot of money on something.
In this case, however, it makes sense that Apple is limiting Stage Manager to devices it feels are capable of delivering a good experience to users. There's just no scenario where Apple is going to drop a feature on users that isn't supported by the device they are using. That's not how Apple does things because it genuinely cares about the experience of its users.
Apple has said that the reason only M1 iPads are getting Stage Manager is that the feature requires several things that are only available on M1, like more memory and fast virtual memory swap. Some people online have disputed whether this is actually true, but there's a good reason to take Apple at its word.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of software, explained it this way:
Building to M1 was critical as well. From the start, the iPad has always maintained this extremely high standard for responsiveness and interactivity. That directness of interaction in that every app can respond to every touch instantaneously as if you are touching the real thing underneath the screen. And I think it's hard sometimes for people to appreciate the technical constraints involved in achieving that.
And as you add multiple apps into play, and large amounts of screen real estate, you have to make sure that any one of those apps can respond instantaneously to touch in a way that you don't have that expectation with a desktop app. Indirect manipulation gives you some slack there, so it's a different set of constraints.
If you've ever used a tablet from any company that isn't Apple, you know Federighi is right. There is no comparison between the experience of using an iPad, and that of anything else. Part of that is because of the hardware, but a large part is because Android on a tablet is just bad.
The users who claim Apple should have enabled the feature on older devices see the move as something more cynical. To them, it seemed as though Apple is clearly trying to force users to upgrade to the latest hardware in order to take advantage of the newest features.
Except, that's not how Apple usually operates. Apple wants to extend future capabilities as far back as they can, when they can provide the very best experience. If they can't, the company would rather hold back a feature altogether rather than deliver something that isn't good.
Apple did something similar with its transition from Intel processors in the Mac, to Apple Silicon. The M1-powered Macs had features that Intel computers it was still selling at the time couldn't do.
That's not nefarious. It's quite the opposite really. It was doing exactly what it said it would do when it announced the transition away from Intel in the first place--build the devices it had wanted to build, but couldn't with the previous limitations.
The same thing is true here. Putting the M1 in an iPad is total overkill if it's not going to be more capable than the devices it replaces. Sure, that means there are some iPads that are only a few years old that seem like they should be able to
There is some dispute as to whether the limitation is technical, but I think it's reasonable to take Apple at its word. The company has a history of adding as much value to older devices through software updates, that it wouldn't make any sense to hold out on something users have asked for literally for years. Apple wants happy iPad users. Delivering less than a good experience doesn't make anyone happy.