Stage Manager, an unreleased feature set to make its way to iPads and Macs as part of the upcoming iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura software updates, is a perfect fit for the iPad — but is underwhelming in comparison to Spaces and Mission Control on the Mac. The feature solidifies the iPad’s standing as a viable computer alternative. It’s not a replacement for a traditional computer in the way that many would think, but instead, is a new way to complete the same tasks one typically would on a laptop. Stage Manager brings true multi-window support to M1 iPads, as long as they have a keyboard and pointer device connected, alongside full external display support. When these peripherals are connected, the iPad gets pretty close to a MacBook, but it isn’t the same experience.
Even when a mouse and keyboard are connected to a compatible iPad, the two peripherals are not the primary input devices for the line of tablets. Regardless of what input devices are connected, the primary method of interaction for the iPad will always be touch. This is reflected in the software, even when a mouse, keyboard, or trackpad are connected. iPadOS is designed first and foremost for touch input, and this can be seen in the development of Stage Manager. It is simple to tap between collections of windows and switch between them intuitively, and is an excellent way to bring multi-window support to a touch-first device with the computing power of a traditional computer.
In comparison, the Mac is strictly a device controlled by precise peripherals, like a keyboard, mouse, or trackpad. The closest thing to touch input on a Mac is SideCar, an iPadOS feature that allows the iPad to serve as an external display for a macOS device. Through SideCar, the Mac — with the use of an Apple Pencil — can be controlled by a touch screen. But after using SideCar on an iPad for any period of time, the flaws of using the Apple Pencil on a computer that requires precise pointer control will become apparent. Since software intended for the Mac can’t easily be used through the iPad’s touch input, can software intended for the iPad – namely Stage Manager – be easily used with precise pointer input?
The answer, of course, is yes. It is simple to use Stage Manager on macOS, because having a more precise pointer input than was intended can’t hurt the user experience. However, for power users that already know how to quickly manage multiple windows on macOS, using Stage Manager will be considerably less efficient than existing window management options. Namely, the duality of Mission Control and Spaces on the Mac make for a great experience when quickly switching between multiple windows, applications, and desktop spaces. They are both triggered using gestures made specifically for the Mac’s input devices — the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad — and don’t suffer from the consequences of developing a feature compatible with two very different devices.
Mission Control is activated with a three-finger swipe upward on the Mac’s trackpad or a Magic Mouse, and will open up a window management solution that displays any open application or window. Users can click on a given window to bring it to the forefront of the screen, or reorder the windows in the way they see fit. At the top of the Mission Control view, the Spaces user interface is visible. Hovering over the Spaces section of Mission Control will show the desktop spaces that have been created, and any full-screen applications. Users can drag applications to various desktop spaces, and create new ones too. After creating Spaces, a three-finger swipe left or right is all it takes to swap desktop spaces, each tailored to the user’s preference.
This essentially achieves the same goal as Stage Manager without the invasive window management sidebar or the cumbersome controls. Creating Spaces in Mission Control takes minutes, and swipes to activate Mission Control or change Spaces take seconds. When it’s time to focus on a singular task, everything that is going on inside Mission Control or another Space is invisible. Then, when it’s time to manage an item in Mission Control or another Space, a simple gesture is all it takes to bring everything to the forefront. It’s a simple and quick way to manage windows that has been around for more than a decade, and there’s a reason why the staple has stuck around through so many Mac software updates.