iOS 9 solves the dilemma between iPad and laptop

New features -- some that riff off Windows tablet PCs -- lend the iPad a more laptoplike feel

iOS 9 solves the dilemma between iPad and laptop
Credit: Apple

The iPad makes for an excellent business device, but there's long been a chorus wanting it to be more like a laptop. iOS 9 moves the iPad into that direction, borrowing cues, such as a sliding pane for showing a second app, from Windows 8 tablet PCs that will better satisfy that laptop desire.

The good news is that Apple hasn't harmed the iPad's existing strengths by making it more laptoplike. The changes are subtle, natural extensions of the existing iOS user interface. Some are not even new features, but presented more explicitly so that you know they're available.

There's more to iOS 9 than tablet PC-like changes; Macworld UK and MacRumors, among others, have done good hands-on surveys of the full iOS 9 updates. But here, I focus on the features that make the iPad work more like a laptop or at least a tablet PC -- what a business user is likely to care about most.

You can run iPad apps side by side

iOS 9 changes how multitasking works, introducing the ability to have side-by-side apps. Previous iOS versions could run apps simultaneously, but only one was available at a time for user interaction. You had to switch among them to initiate or control actions.

iOS 9 iPad split screen apps menu

iOS 9 on an iPad can open a pane on the right side of the screen from which you can select a running app to shown in that pane.

iOS 9 on any compatible iPad (an iPad Mini 2 and later, and any iPad Air model) introduces a new gesture -- swipe from right edge -- to open a pane where you can select from running apps or display the last app that was running. Apple calls this view Slide Over. Pulling down from the top of that pane when an app is running in it displays the apps to choose from.

iOS 9 iPad app running in split screen

The app you choose to run in the right pane is fully functional, though constrained to the pane. Your other app remains onscreen but is not accessible until you close the right pane.

In that side pane, you can interact with the app normally, though it is rescaled to fit within the small window. On most iPads, while you are working in the side pane, the other app is visible, but you can't access it. If you want to copy content from one app to another, you need to copy it first, then open the side pane and the other app into which you want to paste the content. This side pane feature is mainly useful to do quick checks, such as for email or weather, while leaving the original app in view.

iOS 9 split screen view for the iPad Air 2 Apple

On an iPad Air 2, you can run two apps side by side and interact with both of them -- similar to what a Windows 8 tablet does with Metro apps.

But if you have an iPad Air 2 or later tablet, you can widen the side pane, and move back and forth between the two apps on screen, such as to copy and paste between them. This dual-app functionality -- what Apple calls Split View -- is more like what you'd get for Metro apps in a Windows 8 tablet PC.

Apple is definitely not leading in adopting the split-screen approach to tablet multitasking. Microsoft has had it since Windows 8.1 when you're running in tablet mode. Samsung has also had the split-screen mode in many of its devices since Android 4.1.3, though support is app-dependent. (Android proper doesn't have this capability, though the forthcoming Android Marshmallow may gain it.)

If you want overlapping windows à la Windows or OS X on your tablet, Windows 10's tablet mode uses the established desktop approach of multiple, overlapping floating windows. Samsung also uses the multiple-window approach in its Multi Window mode across its Android devices, from the failed Note Pro Android tablet to the popular Galaxy Note phablet. But they are harder to use on the small screen than the split-screen mode.

iOS 9's new view for accessing all running apps -- a carousel of portions of their live windows -- is also old hat elsewhere. Android has had it for several versions, for example. And both OS X and Windows have long had reduced-sized windows of all running apps -- in separate panes, not in a carousel -- for you to choose from.

Also available in iOS 9 to the iPad Mini 2 and later and any iPad Air model is the new Persistent Video Display (aka picture-in-picture) mode for videos and FaceTime video calls. After playing a video or initiating a FaceTime video session, you tap the new icon at the bottom of the screen to reduce the video image to a floating window that stays visible as you switch among apps. That's a great way to have a FaceTime chat while looking up the details of whatever you're discussing or to monitor a video while doing other work.

iCloud Drive works more like a drive

iOS 9 iCloud Drive app

The iCloud Drive app in iOS 9 on an iPad

In iOS 9, Apple's iCloud Drive gets its own app, so you can now peruse the files stored on that cloud service exactly as you could on a Mac or PC. That's a big change in iOS, which heretofore made iCloud Drive available only from within apps to open and save files. 

iOS 9 file attachment via iCloud Drive

In iOS 9, the Mail app can attach files stored in iCloud Drive and other cloud storage services.

A related change is that iOS 9 lets you attach files stored in iCloud Drive to an email, as well as files stored in compatible cloud storage services like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive via iCloud Drive's Locations button. Previous versions of iOS let you attach only photos stored in the Photos app. Some apps let you send their files by initiating an email from within them, but you couldn't combine multiple file types in an email that way -- nor could you send such files from an email you composed in Mail. Now you can -- exactly as on a PC, Mac, or Android device.

Sharing to Notes, Reminders, and iBooks

The Share facility in iOS lets you take on all sorts of tasks, such as copy content, add a photo to a contact, send a photo to iCloud or the Photos app, bookmark a URL, send a file to a cloud storage service, and print content.

iOS 9 sharing

In iOS 9, the Share facility gains the ability to send URLs, text, and images to Notes and Reminders, as well as send content from apps like Notes and Safari to create a PDF that is then stored in iBooks.

In iOS 9, Notes adds more places to share. You can share hyperlinks, text, maps, and images to the notes associated to your iCloud service in the Notes app, as well as URLs to the Reminders app. The pop-up menu that appears when you select text or images also adds the Share button to access these capabilities.

iOS 9 share to Notes

When sharing to Notes in iOS 9, you can add text to whatever you've shared as well as start a new note or add the contents to an existing one.

Even nicer apps like Notes and Safari use the Share facility to create PDF files that are then stored in iBooks.

Note that you will need to upgrade your iCloud service to get all the new content into the Notes app's iCloud-stored notes. It's free, but such upgraded Notes accounts are accessible only from devices running iOS 9, Macs running OS X El Capitan, and via iCloud on the Web.

A keyboard with shortcuts

Because there are no Ctrl or Command shortcuts in iOS, apps have to rely on their own formatting buttons and bars, or the basic formatting available to most apps when you select text (boldface, italics, underline, and indentation). Otherwise, you'd need to use a physical Bluetooth keyboard, with which iOS has long supported standard shortcuts for the likes of copy, paste cut, boldface, italics, and underline.

The iOS 9 onscreen keyboard adds a row for shortcuts if you don't have predictive typing feature turned on; it uses that predictive typing row if you do. The shortcuts vary based on app and context. If you use a physical keyboard with your iPad, the row of shortcuts still displays at the bottom of the screen.

iOS 9 shortcuts

iOS 9 adds shortcut buttons to the onscreen keyboard. At top are two sets of buttons that display with many apps: Cut, Copy, and Paste on the left; Bold, Italics, Underline, Camera, and Attach on the right. In the row below, the Cut and Copy buttons have been replaced by Undo and Redo; iOS does this contextually. At bottom is the shortcuts bar for the Notes app, which provides a menu button for Undo, Redo, and Copy and buttons for Checklist, Formatting, Draw, and Camera.

Most apps get buttons for undo, redo, copy, paste, boldface, and underline -- features already available in iOS 9 through the text-selection pop-up menu or, in the case of undo and redo, buried in the onscreen keyboard. Now that they're in your face, you'll probably actually know they exist.

Other buttons that apps might display include Attach, Camera, Draw, Checkbox, and Formatting. The iOS 9 Notes app, for example, offers the Checkbox, Camera, Draw, and Formatting buttons for notes stored locally or in iCloud. The iOS 9 Mail app adds buttons for Camera and Attach. Developers can add their own buttons.

iOS 9 iPad keyboards

iOS 9 finally makes it clear whether you're typing in lowercase (top) or uppercase (bottom two). The Shift key is highlighted (middle) when you've tapped it. The standard Caps Lock symbol (bottom) appears in the Shift key's place when you're typing in all-uppercase.

Another change to the keyboard in iOS 9 is that now you can tell when you're in lowercase or uppercase mode because the keys display as lowercase or uppercase on the onscreen keyboard. It's hard to believe it took five years for the iOS keyboard to be clear as to whether Shift was enabled. Windows and Android tablets have provided this explicit visual cue for years.

iOS 9 iPad Pro keyboard Steve Troughton-Smith

An iOS developer found these screens in Apple's beta development tools, which purportedly show a more laptoplike onscreen keyboard for the new iPad Pro.

One developer has also shared a version of the iOS 9 onscreen keyboard that appears to be designed for a larger, 12-inch iPad model; it has numeral keys and other laptop-style keys that a larger iPad's screen would make room for. The rumors about the so-called "iPad Pro" have been going around for years, but this developer says he found the new keyboards in Apple's beta development tools. This time, the rumors are true, as Apple announced the iPad Pro today.

The iPad becomes a trackpad

iOS 9 iPad virtual trackpad

By tapping two fingers in a compatible app like Notes, iOS 9 makes the iPad screen work like a virtual trackpad, so you can drag a pointer onscreen for drawing or, as shown here, text selection.

iOS 9 lets the iPad screen work as a trackpad, making a pointer available for you to use when drawing, scrolling, or selecting. Double-tap on the screen to have the pointer appear (it's a vertical bar), then use your finger on the touchscreen as if it were a trackpad. Double-tap to revert to the standard behavior.

A nicer Notes

Finally, Apple has enhanced the Notes app, long a paragon of simplicity. The app now has a drawing mode, so you can sketch in your notes. Plus, you can attach files to notes, take pictures in your notes, and share hyperlinks, maps, and other text into your notes, as described previously.

iOS 9 Notes app

The Notes app in iOS 9 gains the ability do freeform drawing in notes, as well to apply formatting create checklists, and insert photos. Notes can also received content from the Share facility; shown here is a hyperlink shared to Notes, which appears as a label in the note.

In the Settings app, a new preference option for Notes lets you have new notes created with the first line formatted as a title, heading, or regular text. The first two options make sense if you treat your notes like formal documents and want them to have formal-looking titles.

Most of these new capabilities work only in notes stored locally on the iPad or in iCloud. Your notes stored in Exchange, IMAP, and Google will remain basic.

The iPad still isn't a laptop

Despite these changes to the iPad in iOS 9,  if you really want a laptop and not a tablet as a companion computer, consider getting Apple's new ultralight MacBook instead. It's designed to be a lightweight second device that runs OS X and all OS X apps but using cloud services and wireless networks to access data much as you would do on an iPad.

Apple continues to see a tablet as not a PC (or Mac), so they remain distinct devices, although the new MacBook has iPad-like features and iOS 9 gives the iPad some laptoplike features. That's a very different choice than Microsoft has made with its Surface tablet PCs, which are flat PCs or keyboardless laptops, not tablets in the iPad (or Android) sense.

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