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The iPad could finally replace your laptop with iPadOS 16 — here's why

iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch) review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Henry T. Casey)

An iPadOS rumor says Apple's tablet software could get two major upgrades at WWDC 2022 that I really want to happen: a desktop mode and resizable app windows.

This comes from developer Steve Troughton-Smith (opens in new tab), after looking through newly committed code for Apple's open-source WebKit, the engine that Apple developers use to build browsers for iPhones and iPads. Within it, he found references (opens in new tab) to a previously unknown toggable multitasking mode that enables fully-resizable app windows on iPadOS. He compares it to how you can switch Windows 10 or Windows 11 to tablet mode, making the OS easier to use with touch controls. 

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While there are only limited rumors about what to expect for iPadOS 16, one other source (leaker Majin Bu (opens in new tab)) has also talked about how connecting a keyboard and trackpad to an iPad will enable this multitasking feature, but that it could be an M1 iPad exclusive and may not appear in iPadOS 16. Assuming Apple doesn't hold this feature back for a future version of iPadOS, I am excited to hear that it's a possibility coming soon.

The features that the iPad needs to replace a laptop

Apple has marketed iPads for some time as laptop replacements, but as good as the best iPads are, we've seen time and again that they're still not capable of replacing the best laptops, even with accessories like the Magic Keyboard. One of the big things that gets in the way of that is how limited multi-tasking and mouse-and-keyboard use currently is on the iPad.

With iPadOS 15, you are limited to one full-size app or two half-size ones with a narrow slide-over window that you can hide off-screen, which I find to be enough for the odd writing task but nowhere near enough windows for my regular Windows 10 workflow. You can also open multiple instances of an app in iPadOS, but these are still limited to the same window sizes as before, and can only be used one at a time.

The keyboard compatibility for iPad is actually quite good, including some shortcuts for easier navigation. Using the mouse, however, isn't so smooth, as it has to still interact with an interface laid out for touch and gestures, making basic tasks like copy/pasting or switching apps clunky.

Having a regular desktop with resizable windows would therefore be a huge boon for users. It would make using multiple apps together far smoother and more customizable, rather than based on some constricting presets. It would hopefully make using peripherals less awkward, too, if the desktop came with remapped controls that were better navigated with key taps and clicks than your finger.

I doubt it'll be quite as versatile as the resizable windows you get on macOS or Windows 11, since mobile app devs won't initially have their apps ready to work with different window sizes. However, it may be enough for some users to decide it's easier to work off their iPad than a laptop they otherwise wouldn't use, and hopefully developers would in time adapt their apps to work in the new layout.

Enhanced multitasking could also prove to be a great use of the M1 chip Apple is now using in the iPad Pro and iPad Air. While individual apps may not be able to tax the powerful silicon, multiple ones could make use of the latent potential. And make me annoyed I just bought a refurbished 2020 iPad Pro which uses an A-series chip instead.

WWDC starts on June 6, with the keynote that morning expected to reveal all the new software. Rumors have been quiet for iPadOS compared to iOS 16, macOS 13 and other new Apple OS updates, making it hard to know if this window resizing ability is coming anytime soon. I really hope it is though, as it will remove one of the heaviest shackles that currently limit the iPad's potential as a work device.

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.

  • STrRedWolf
    For an iPad to replace my current laptop, it must:
    Have at least a 1080p screen in 16:9 format.
    Run regular, non iPad specific Firefox.
    Run Gimp and work with the Apple Pencil inside of Gimp.
    Be able to connect to a third-party VPN and run Microsoft's RDP software.
    Oh, and boot into Linux and do all the above (yes, I dual boot Win10 and Xubuntu)If it can't do that, then all it's good for is single tasking surfing, maybe using Procreate (which is no Gimp or Photoshop) and text editing... which means why upgrade my iPad?
    Reply