iPadOS 16 — can iPads replace your laptop now?

iPadOS 16 at WWDC 2022
(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

Revealed during WWDC 2022, iPadOS 16 will bring new multitasking features to iPads this fall. Chief among these is Stage Manager, which is coming to both macOS 13 and iPadOS 16. This feature puts whichever app you’re working on front and center, temporarily moving unused tabs to the sides of the screen. It also has improved external display support to make it easier to work on two screens.

Stage Manager, along with other features like Collaboration and Freeform, make the iPad feel more like a traditional computer. As such, it has the potential to turn your iPad into a laptop replacement. But can Stage Manager actually accomplish that?

Below, we’ll go over the pros and cons of Stage Manager and see if it can make the dream of turning one’s iPad into an effective laptop a reality.

Stage Manager: Pros 

Stage Manager is a new way to multitask that puts the app you're working on front and center. You’re able to operate many windows at once and gather them together into a single pile. It’s possible to switch between apps and windows and even group the ones you want to use together. You can also resize windows.

iPadOS 16 at WWDC 2022

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

Thanks to Stage Manager, you’ll be able to create groups of three or four windows on your iPad and have a total of eight apps running simultaneously when connected to an external display. This is a significant jump from iPadOS 15, which limited you to one full-size app or two half-size ones with a narrow slide-over window that you could hide off-screen.

Stage Manager: Cons 

The main criticism lobbied at Stage Manager is that it only works for iPads with an M1 chip – namely, the latest iPad Pro and iPad Air. Though Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi has explained why Stage Manager only works on M1-powered iPads, folks like Tom’s Guide staff writer Richard Priday will be unhappy this favorite new feature won't work on their iPad.

While you can connect iPads without M1 to an external display, you’re only getting a mirror of what’s on your iPad. Stage Manager’s external support (with resolutions up to 6K) gives you two distinct screens to work from. This is another feature that’s only coming to iPads with the M1 chip.

iPadOS 16 at WWDC 2022

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

The Apple Magic Keyboard is a peripheral you’ll need if you want to turn your iPad into a laptop. It’s also a hurdle to overcome. It does a decent enough job of providing a pseudo-laptop experience but it’s not exactly perfect. If you have large hands, they’re going to cramp after prolonged use. The Magic Keyboard’s gray circle cursor is nowhere near as functional or responsive as a traditional arrow cursor. The same is true for the imprecise touchpad.

Can iPads replace your laptop now? 

Having the M1 chip in iPads opens the door for features that would have only been possible on laptops or desktops. Up until now, the M1 processor felt underutilized on iPads. A feature like Stage Manager seems to finally take advantage of the M1. As such, asking whether or not it can turn your iPad into a laptop replacement isn’t unwarranted.

Stage Manager has some of the multitasking functionality that iPad users have long asked for, such as the ability to resize windows and have multiple windows on a single screen. Being able to use an external monitor as a secondary screen for the iPad also helps make the tablet a potential laptop replacement.

But as we’ve detailed above, Stage Manager has faults that may not be resolved so easily. If your iPad doesn’t have an M1 chip, you won’t be able to use Stage Manager or its external display functionality. This stings even more considering how the majority of iPad owners have older models lacking the M1 chip. It would be hard for these folks to get excited about a feature they can’t even use. And of course, the Magic Keyboard will need an overhaul before it’s as good as a standard laptop keyboard.

Thanks to the iPadOS 16 developer and public betas, we’ll soon be able to put Stage Manager to the test and see how well it functions. More importantly, we’ll see for ourselves if iPads can legitimately replace laptops.

Tony Polanco
Computing Writer

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on X/Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.