iOS 11: iPad Wishes and Concept Video

A really fantastic concept video from Federico Viticci of MacStories on his vision for iOS 11.

There are so many good ideas here, but I was particularly drawn to his concept for native drag & drop. It's a feature that would be more at home on a touch-based interface than anywhere else in my opinion.

Despite the complexities involved, drag & drop increasingly feels like something that needs to come to the iPad. It just makes a lot more sense to be able to directly manipulate and move content around on a large multitouch screen than it does with a cursor and a smaller trackpad. There would be challenges for Apple and developers, but, after Split View and the large iPad Pro, it seems obvious that the next step is to let users manipulate content further and move it anywhere.

Drag & drop on iPad could become the fastest way to share any piece of data between apps. Users wouldn't have to rely on the clipboard or the share sheet to slowly move data between apps anymore. With drag & drop, content would be naturally rearranged and dropped as needed, solving one of the biggest problems of working on the iPad.

Viticci's ideas for a redesigned Split View app picker (much overdue) are also great.

The Split View app picker has to be redesigned from scratch. Building on last year's concept, I envision a picker that would address all the shortcomings of the existing design:

• The picker would allow users to arrange their most-used apps on a grid, similar to a mini Home screen;

• There would be an integrated Spotlight option to search for specific apps (or app content) and launch them directly in Split View;

• The picker could be displayed on either side of Split View, with an option to swap the primary and secondary app (a long-press on the picker "handle" at the top);

• Recently used apps would still be displayed at the bottom of the picker as cards. Unlike iOS 10, every app – not just the most recently used one – would carry a preview of its last-seen state (like in the system multitasking view);

• Every app icon/card displayed in the picker would support spring-loading for items passed via drag & drop, enabling users to quickly open files in different apps or insert discrete data into app views;

• The entire Split View picker UI could be invoked and navigated with an external keyboard, removing the need to touch the screen when an iPad is used on a desk.

A revamped app picker design based on these principles would greatly increase the usability and speed of Split View, but it would also introduce a different set of trade-offs and usability concerns to be addressed by Apple. Specifically, while the picker could be invoked on either side of the screen, it couldn't be shown simultaneously on both sides, as it would cause issues with users attempting to open the same app in two places. Furthermore, I imagine that Apple could dim an app's icon in the Split View grid if the app is already active on the other side.

What struck me most about reading this article is that many of these ideas would give iPad users much better answers to the questions they are most often asked by non-iPad users. One point where I disagree with Viticci is about opening the same app in two different places. Just this week, when I mentioned to someone that I use an iPad for all of my work, their first comment was, "I heard that you can't have two Word documents open at the same time." Though to me this is a fairly minor use case that if necessary I can work around (perhaps by viewing one document in OneDrive while editing the other), it made me realise that what allows me to do a lot of my work on an iPad is being aware or figuring out these workarounds. I would love developers to be able to allow their apps to be open in two different instances in Split View, in much the way that Safari does at the moment. This wouldn't be appropriate for all apps (Photos or Apple Music for example), but for many document-based apps it would make a lot of sense. Copying bits of one Word or Pages document into another is just too much hassle at the moment. A redesigned Split View app picker which allowed this would be a welcome addition to iOS 11.

Split View concept

Viticci also discussed his concept for a Finder for iOS.

The argument that the iPad doesn't "need a filesystem" lost its validity when Apple introduced document providers in iOS 8 and the iCloud Drive app in iOS 9. iOS already has a visible filesystem, only it's been rebuilt with simplicity in mind for the age of apps so it doesn't expose system information like on macOS. The next logical step for Apple is to turn their scattershot implementation of document pickers and providers into a true Finder layer that can work with every app and be more cohesive and intuitive than what we have today.

Another question people often ask me is about how I get my files onto my iPad. When I say that I use cloud services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and iCloud Drive, they ask how I work with files when offline. For me, being offline is actually very rare: I have wifi at home and at work, and my iPad has a cellular connection if I want to work when I'm on the train. Many of the apps I use work also work perfectly well offline, and do their saving and backing up when they get back online.

Many people have also heard that iCloud Drive isn't that good, and they're right when it comes to the current app. A while back, I considered moving to it as my primary file system because of some of the system privileges it has, but in the end decided against it because there are just too many limitations on moving files around and sharing them between apps. Some apps such as Readdle's Documents have attempted to solve some of these problems, and have been successful to an extent. But there is no substitute in my view for Apple implementing a fully-fledged Finder app of their own. Apple were originally aiming for simplicity in terms of how files are managed on iOS, but where they've ended up is confusing to many users. Viticci shows that more powerful features and simplicity can go hand-in-hand.

I'm excited to see what's coming to iOS 11, and to get a glimpse of the future of the iPad. As always, Viticci says it best:

iOS 9 was supposed to be a new beginning for the iPad. Two years later, we're still waiting for what comes next. We were given a taste of the future, and left hoping there would be more.

It's time for Apple to go back to the iPad and fulfill the promise of a device that can redefine modern computing. iOS 9 seemed to hint at a different Apple – capable of rethinking fundamental traits of the iPad's software while respecting its legacy and essence. I want to see the same approach and bold vision in iOS 11, with the iPad growing into a computing platform that takes the best features of the Mac and reimagines them for our times. I want to see the iPad ecosystem thrive again, creating new incentives for developers to craft desktop-class apps and for users to invest in the iPad as their primary computer.

iOS 9 was an outstanding update, but there's so much more the iPad can be.

We're ready for something new.