A New Approach to iPad OS
*TL;DR:* A reimagined iPad OS featuring a new multitasking paradigm, robust file support, external device management, and vastly improved keyboard control.
It’s 6:30 in the evening and I’ve only just arrived home.
The train was crowded tonight, so I couldn’t find a place to sit. Instead I squeezed alongside several other weary commuters and tried to focus on a podcast, not the slowly encroaching smell from somewhere in the back of the car.
Still, the first thing I want to do when I finally recline on my sofa isn’t to switch on the next episode of my newest HBO thrill (seriously, if you haven’t yet seen *Barry*, you’re missing out). No, I want to get back to work on this article.
Why, you ask? Why would he want to keep working after nine hours of video editing and copywriting? Because this is about my new iPad Pro, and I honestly can’t put the device down.
In the days and weeks since these 13-inches of glass and aluminum appeared on my doorstep, I’ve drawn more, read more, and watched more video on-the-go than in the entirety of the last year. I’ve once again started exploring the iOS app ecosystem and, honestly, been impressed (LumaFusion, wow!).
This is quite possibly the most exciting peice of technology I’ve acquired in the last decade and, yes, I’m including the iPhone X in that calculation. The last time I bought an iPad was in 2012 when the first Retina screen equipped model hit the market. And I loved it. But it quickly was relegated to the job of a full-color Kindle replacement and kitchen recipe manager. It simply couldn’t run the apps I needed and lack of a cellular connection made it far less useful as a mobile computing platform.
But sitting here in 2018, the iPad has come a very long way.
It’s blazing fast. It’s slim and light. The screen is simply incredible. And the app ecosystem is vastly improved. Others have written ad nauseum about the device, so I’ll spare you anymore gushing.
Instead, I want to focus on the ways in which Apple could take this incredible hardware and pair it with updated software that takes full advantage of the device’s strengths.
## Bigger Screens, More Possibilities
When it launched in 2007, the design of the iPhone home screen was beautiful in it’s simplicity: a grid of apps, each taking full control of (at the time) a large touchscreen and transforming the device into exactly what was needed by the user. Tap, boom, it’s a camera. Tap, a messenging device. Tap, a widescreen iPod with video.
While applications running on a universal OS was nothing new, multi-touch interactions on a pocketable device were. The smartphone itself faded away to become an intuitive means of performing actions.
But as the number of apps installed on a given device increased, along with the hardware capabilities of the devices, so too did the need to use mulitple apps simultaneously. Multitasking made its way over from desktop and notebook platforms. But still, the home screen remained untouched.
Even with the introduction of iPad in 2010, the grid stayed the same. We have the widget page, but that has always felt tacked on. iOS is begging for something new and more powerful. Rumours have it that Apple is working on a new design, but it never hurts to explore other options. So with that, here’s a new take on iPad OS, built for the needs of today.
## The Home Screen
After unlocking one’s iPad, the Home Screen is the first thing a user sees. The grid of apps, while it mostly worked in the past, it now seems dated. Apart from a few notification badges, it gives the user little sense of where they are and what tasks need to be accomplished.
On the Mac, when a user unlocks their device, they are immediately taken to whatever state the machine was left in. Maybe it’s a browser and notes app. Maybe it’s an open Photoshop composition. The iPad does something similar, but because of its more constrained multitasking paradigm, simply showing the last open app (or apps) is less indicitive of what a user is working on. A new approach should build on the multitasking system, while also giving the user a better overall view of the device and what actions thay can take next.
I’m dubbing this new system: “Aerial.”
## Aerial: A New Overview of Your Work
Aerial introduces a new default page on the home screen and gives the user an at-a-glance view of the all active projects, notifications, and to-dos on their device. It is broken into three sections: Last Active, the Side Bar, and of course our old friend the Dock.
[Aerial Home Screen](https://i.redd.it/ph0b95x323821.png)
## Last Active
The left portion of the home screen is the largest and is dedicated to the applications most recently in use by the user. By default, the four most recently opened applications and Workspaces (more on those later) are visible, and the user can swipe vertically to scroll and view more.
These applications and Workspaces are displayed as previews with their icon(s) at the bottom. Next to the icon is a badge indicating any notifications associated with the app.
[App and Workspace Notifications](https://i.redd.it/m5t8yozbz2821.jpg)
## Side Bar
The rightmost third of the home screen houses a Side Bar for all the user’s notifications and widgets. It closely resembles the Side Bar on MacOS. This section can be fully customized, much like the Widget screen.
At the top of the Side Bar, there are two options: Today and Notifications. A numerical indicator displays how many unread notifications are waiting for the user. Today displays a user’s Widgets.
Along the bottom of this list is a Spotlight field, allowing quick search actions – apps, contacts, or the web.
## The Dock: Quick Access to Everything that Matters
Largely unchanged from the Dock as we know it in iOS 12, there are three major additions to the new and improved Dock: Launcher, Recent Files, and Connected Devices.
Tapping the Launcher displays a list of the installed apps on the device. The user can specify whether they’d like them in alphabetical order or by most recently used. There is also a search function here. The Launcher is especially useful when a user wants to launch an app without leaving their currently active app.
Aerial Homecreen also be able to add Shortcuts to the Launcher, much in the sand way they can currently add them to the home screen or Shortcuts widget.
## Recent Files
Recent Files opens a stack of the most recently opened documents and files across all apps. Both the Launcher and Recent Files functions can be removed from the Dock in System Preferences, if desired by the user.
While the Files app icon can currently do some of this, it is limited by the fact that many apps do not make their documents accessible from within the Files app. The Recent Files stack is really part of a greater framework making all a user’s documents more accessible from more places. This will be discussed in more detail later.
## Connected Devices
The last addition to the Dock is a stack for any Connected Devices. This icon appears immediately when a compatible device is connected to the iPad. Tapping the icon launches the appropriate app to interact with the device. Multiple devices will always collapse into a single stack on the Dock.
In addition to opening the appropriate app, this dock stack also displays the current state of the device: backing up, recording, or any number of other functions.
## The Lock Screen
Tap your iPad screen or hit the Sleep/Wake button and the iPad’s beautiful screen comes to life. But apart from a few notifications, the lock screen provides little else.
For some this simple, calming space might be perfect. Pick a wallpaper and enjoy. But for power users this huge expanse of screen, the first thing you see when grabbing your device, seems like a bit of a waste. But what should Apple do with this opportunity? The answer is already in your pocket.
On the iPhone, the lock screen has only two dedicated software buttons. One launches the camera, the other the flash. But on iPad, we have the opportunity to give the user a variety of quick actions that can be easily accessed with no delay. This will take two forms: Quick Action Buttons and Pencil Actions.
## Quick Action Buttons
By adding these action buttons directly to the lock screen, users will be able to quickly jump into any number of different system or third party apps, even if they don’t have a Pencil. Like the Control Center, these buttons should be fully customizable. Default buttons could be New Note, Compose Mail, New Reminder, etc. Appps should also be able to donate Quick Action Buttons, in the same way they donate Shortcuts.
[Quick Action Buttons](https://i.redd.it/w6s00o6503821.jpg)
## Pencil Actions
Currently, tapping the iPad’s lock screen with the Pencil launches a new Note. While this is a nice start, the function is not customizable. Users should be able to set a system preference for a Pencil tap.
Additionally, if desired, the user should be able to tap-and-slide the pencil to select different apps, Workspaces, or even specific files which have been pinned to the lock screen. Simple place the top of the pencil on the screen and then slide to the left or right to pick from all the available apps.
[Tap-and-Slide Pencil Actions Interface](https://i.redd.it/i4u05zu103821.jpg)
We are doing more on-the-go than ever. For many users, a phone or tablet is all they need. But accomplishing complex tasks involving multiple apps can often be challenging on these devices. Split View, introduced in iOS 9, was a huge step forward for iPad users, but it doesn’t quite go far enough and interactions with apps in this mode are often cumbersome. For that reason, Apple ought to refine the UI for multitasking and enable apps to do more in those multitasking setups.
## Mission Control
The first improvement I am recommending is a new method to view currently open applications and switch between them. It unifies the current multitasking view with Spotlight and Control Center, and borrows it’s name from a familiar MacOS feature: Mission Control.
Cmd+Space or swipe-and-hold from the bottom of the screen and iPad will present the new Mission Control view. Much like the Aerial view on the home screen, apps and workspaces fill the left two-thirds of the screen. To the right of those, is control center. The Dock is along the bottom. A Spotlight field at the top of the screen will immediatly become active and allow the user to type a few keystrokes to open an app, search the web, or perform a host of other functions.
If a Bluetooth keyboard is connected, Cmd+Tab will also open this view, but will immediately highlight the last open the app or workspace and allow the user to tab through open apps.
Again, Split View has been a real boon to iPad productivity. However, the app groupings permitted with it are far from perfect. The largest issue with multitasking in Split View is limiting an app to only one pairing. This is solved by our next innovation: Workspaces.
Workspaces are programmable, responsive app-groupings that can be summoned with a gesture or keyboard shortcut.
## Multiple App Instances
Individual apps can be added to mulitple workspaces, in different multitasking layouts, and even enable pinning a specific section or document inside of an app to the workspace, for instance a specific note, illustration, or video editing project.
Each Workspace remembers where you are in a given app, so there’s no managing windows, just add the app to the Workspace and navigate to the note section you want pinned there. It stays at that section of the app until the user changes it.
When selected from the Dock, Launcher, or home screen grid, a single tap will launch the last active instance of the app, while a long press or Opt+Return will present a dialog to pick from all available instances.
Workspaces can be easily duplicated and then modified to a user’s liking, by tapping a button in Mission Control. They can be renamed following the same procedure as would be used for a home screen folder. Lastly, workspaces can be added to the Dock, just like any individual app. When placed on the Dock, the user will be prompted to choose an icon for the Workspace.
Each Workspace can accomodate up to 4 apps: two in Split View, two as Slide Over panes. Split View apps be laid out in the same current 50/50 or 67/33 arrangements. The only change to these is that 50/50 is now honored when the iPad is in a portrait orientation.
Users can also choose to have Slide Over apps be universal to the system, rather than locked to a specific Workspace.
Using the Dock to switch apps in Multitasking works, but leaves a lot to be desired. Adding the Launcher to the Dock also helps, but users should have an even quicker method.
When in a workspace, each app panel dispays small indicator bar at the of the screen. Tapping and dragging down on this indicator will minimize the app to a preview window and then drop it into a selection panel. The design of this panel is directly borrowed from the [MacStories iOS 11 Wish List](https://www.macstories.net/stories/ios-11-ipad-wishes-and-concept-video/) by Frederico Viticci from a few years ago, and would work exactly the same. Dragging the preview further down, reduces it to an icon overlaid with an “X” closing app icon. When released in this state, the app closes and the other Split View app fills the screen.
At the center of any workflow are the actual files being worked on. Until this point, iOS has largely treated files as secondary to apps. But with the introduction of the Files app, Apple finally broke files on iOS free from their app specific cages. For this future vision of working on iPad, we’re going to take managing files to the next level.
As mentioned earlier, users will now see Recent Files on their Dock. Further, from the Files app or share sheet in any app, any file can be pinned directly to the Dock (and anywhere else on the home screen). For example, a specific file in Files, drawing in Procreate, or a project in Things. One tap takes you directly to the linked file in the last application with which it was viewed. A Force Touch or long press will allow users to select any compatible app with which to open the file.
## External Storage
The introduction of USB-C has finally brought an iOS device into the world of universal standard connectors. While it currently serves the same function as Lighting did previously, it opens up the possiblity of more integrations with external devices and storage.
The ability to add external storage to an iPad is low hanging fruit for Apple. In this concept, the Files app would break the current “Locations” heading into three new top-level headings: “On Your iPad,” “On the Cloud,” “Connected Storage.”
On Your iPad would contain device-level storage, including listings for any sand-boxed apps. As mentioned earlier, Apple should require developers to make the documents created in their apps viewable through the Recent Files framework, even if they are not able to be directly accessed in Files.
On the Cloud would contain any cloud-connected services such as iCloud, Dropbox, and Google Drive. These would function exactly as they do currently.
The third tier, “Connected Storage” will display any connected devices, via USB or over the network. Additionally, when an external device is attached to the iPad, it will immediately appear in the Dock. One tap on the Dock icon will launch Files and display the contents of the device. If there are multiple external storage devices attached, these Dock icons will collapse into a Stack.
Via Drag-and-Drop and the Share Sheet, files can be easily moved or copied from external storage to internal or cloud-connected storage.
## Disconnected Media
External storage devices should be fully-hotswappable and do not require “ejecting.”
Apps which no longer have access to previously used files on disconnected external storage will display a greyed-out icon for the file and, if the user attempts to open the missing file, will display a message such as “[File Name] is no longer available. Please connect to external storage device [Previously Available Device Name] to access this [document type]”.
## Time Machine
iOS 13 should introduce full support for Time Machine, including snapshots and full backups to external storage and iCloud.
## External Devices, Keyboards, and Text Entry
While iPad and iPhone have supported Bluetooth keyboards for nearly their entire existence, and the onscreen keyboard that premiered with the iPhone was a best in class experience, typing on iPad still leaves something to be desired. There are simply too many tradeoffs.
Use the on-screen keyboard and you get great predictive text and simple cursor movement, but typing on glass is often painfully slow. Attach a keyboard and you get a better typing experience and the power of keyboard shortcuts, but are constantly reaching up to touch a vertically oriented screen because there is no cursor support. Neither solves all the problems.
Apple needs to improve both of these typing experiences if they want the iPad to be a truly desktop class writing platform.
## Onscreen keyboard
## Swipe typing
I’ve been experimenting GBoard on iPad and have found that swipe typing with the Apple Pencil to be a very interesting way of composing text. I’m not as fast as I would be with a real keyboard, but generally find that I’m able to keep up with my ideas as they flow out. The biggest problem with this style of typing is that the iPad keyboard is simply to large for swiping to feel fluid and avoid accidently lifting the Pencil tip off the glass mid-word.
Apple should introduce a swipe keyboard for iPad, where the keys are closer together and the rest of the space is used for other text controls. I find this style of typing is best suited for situations where the iPad is in my lap, and I’m casually editing text or outlining a larger writing project.
Above the swipe area, the user will see a realtime readout of the entered text. This will greatly help with accuracy, since often the actual document is much further up the screen.
By collapsing the swipe area to a small section of the keyboard, and allowing the user to choose left- or right-handed modes, swipe typing could easily become the fastest input method without a keyboard attached.
The remaining portion of the keyboard can be used as a multifunction area: Emoji picker, sketch pad, and track pad.
## Handwriting to Text
Again, the Apple Pencil has been a remarkable addition to my computing life, but it astounds me that there is still no true handwriting to text features on the iPad. Even the Apple Watch has it! Instead, Apple has relinquished this functionality to third parties, but none are able to really solve the problem.
A handwriting solution must feel intuitive and native. It should be as easy as writing on paper. It should also happen in realtime, so any errors can be seen by the user and quickly corrected.
Much like the swipe input keyboard, the handwriting mode displays the entered text in realtime and only enters it into the document after the user pauses for a second. Depending on the user’s preferred writing hand, controls such as Shift and Return will appear to the right or left of the text entry area. Edits to text can be made by crossing out a word (delete), triple underlining a letter (capitalize), or any other standard copyediting notations. These notations can be viewed quickly in a cheat sheet with a tap of a button.
[Copyediting cheat sheet](https://i.redd.it/izskgsxgz2821.jpg)
## Hardware Keyboards
Attach an external keyboard to iPad and many users suddenly have a very compelling laptop replacement. However, for the reasons discussed earlier, lack of a pointing device makes navigating the iPad’s user interface somewhat challenging when it is upright on a desk or propped up in your lap.
But with a few small tweaks to the way keyboards interact with iOS, many of these issues could be almost entirely eliminated.
## Touch surfaces
The first and most dramatic change would be the introduction of a horizontal plane of touch interaction. While I’m not arguing for a full on mouse-and-pointer for the iPad, I do think that being able to quickly move a selection point in a document or navigating the home screen would be improved dramatically by a track pad.
In practice, the design and function of this touch surface would be modeled after another Apple product: the Siri Remote for Apple TV.
## Interface Navigation
Indirect manipulation of iOS interface elements presents a challenge without adding in the complication of a mouse pointer, but again this is where the Apple TV comes to the rescue. When using this track pad, UI elements will lift slightly off the plane and receive a slight glow effect.
The same effect can be applied when navigating interfaces with the keyboard.
Every interface element should be navigable with the keyboard. The shortcuts below are designed to closely resemble keyboard controls on the Mac, but are specifically tailored to iOS.
* Cmd+Opt+D: Show Dock
* Cmd+Opt+O: Open Launcher in the Dock
* Cmd+Opt+R: Open Recent Files in the Dock
* Cmd+Space: Open Mission Control, Spotlight input selected
* Cmd+Tab: Open Mission Control, Last Active Workspaces selected
* Tab to cycle through available Workspaces
* Cmd+Opt+N: Open Notification Center
* Cmd+Opt+C: Open Control Center
* Arrow Keys: Move selection highlight/cursor
* Tab: Move to next field or navigate to next section of app
* Shift+Tab: Move to previous field or navigate to previous section of app
* Ctrl+Left: Navigate left to next home screen page
* Ctrl+Right: Navigate right to next home screen page
* Cmd+H: Go to home screen
* Cmd+Q: Close app and open app picker in its place
* When in Split View, the user will be presented with an option to choose which app is closed. If Slide Over is active, that app will be closed.
* If the user hits Cmd+Q a second time, the Workspace will close entirely.
* Cmd+E: Open Share Sheet
* Cmd+O: Open File Dialog
* Cmd+Left: Activate Left Slide Over app
* Cmd+Right: Activate Right Slide Over app
* Ctrl+Left: Swipe from left edge gesture
* Ctrl+Right: Swipe from right edge gesture
Obviously, this is just a short list of the keyboard shortcuts that iOS should implement. Each app will have a number of it’s own specific commands, and of course we will leave in the powerful hold Command function to reveal them in cheat sheet to the user. Third party applications will also be able to implement their own shortcuts in addition to these system actions.
But shortcuts should do more than just navigate the UI.
Under **Settings > General > Keyboard**, there will be a new keyboard shortcuts menu. Here, the user can define any keyboard shortcut or remap system shortcuts as they like. Third party apps can also donate keyboard shortcuts to this menu, as well as any Shortcut action, using the same framework that powers the Shortcuts app.
Clearly, there are many other features Apple could and should implement. The afore mentioned iOS 11 wish list from MacStories is a great place to start. But the goal of this article is just to explore my thoughts after using the device for about a month.
I love the iPad and try to use it whenever possible to do my work. In fact, this entire article was written and illustrated on the iPad Pro.
I wrote it using Notes and 1Writer, partially with an Apple Wireless Keyboard and partially with GBoard’s swipe typing via Apple Pencil. The illustrations were done in Concepts.
In my mind there is no doubt that the iPad is a truly powerful computer and will continue to be a larger part of my work in the coming months and years. After 8 years on the market, the iPad seems to have come into it’s own.
But there is still a lot it can grow into. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next.