Why the iPad screen is ill-suited for split-screen multitasking

May 17, 2014

As Apple prepares to unveil iOS 8 at WWDC on June 2nd, rumors are flying. 9to5mac wrote this week that the next version of iOS will probably allow multitasking in a split-screen mode.

That feature has been touted by Microsoft as an advantage of Windows 8 tablets vs. the iPad. Samsung has also promoted its Mutli-Window feature on Android devices.

While some iPad users and developers have asked for split-screen multitasking for some time, it’s not clear how useful it would actually be.

A writer for CultofMac has enjoyed that feature for a few days. On his jailbroken iPad, he has installed a OS Experience, a jailbreak tweak allowing split-screen multitasking.

His report is sobering: “Over the last week I’ve discovered to my great disappointment that split-screen multitasking on the iPad has not been helpful. If anything, it has detracted from my ability to work.”

The main reason, he says, is simply the screen size: The iPad screen is not large enough. The same experience on an iPad Mini would certainly be much worse.

Maybe the multitasking feature is not designed, or at least not optimized, for the current iPad screen but for a new, larger one.

Older rumors have been floating about a 12.9 inch iPad Pro or iPad Maxi, which would be geared primarily towards the commercial market.

But whatever its size, we can bet that future iPad screens will have the same 1.33 horizontal ratio. In horizontal orientation, split the screen in two halves and you’ll get two narrow vertical bands, with a 1.5 vertical ratio. It could be hard to do actual work on such a screen.

When you start with a 1.33 horizontal ratio, it would actually make more sense to limit the second app to just a narrow band on the left or on the right –like the original snapview in Windows 8– so that the primary app still has enough room to be played with.

Compare that with Windows tablets, which typically have a 1.78 horizontal ratio. You could run a line in the middle and get two almost two squares. This is a much better configuration to work simultaneously on two apps.

The beauty of the iPad is its simplicity, which allows a user to be fully immersed in one environment.

Would Apple go the same route as with iPhones and change the screen ratio? Only the gods in Cupertino know for sure.

But assuming they won’t tinker with the signature look of the iPad screen, I am not holding my breath waiting for split-screen multitasking. It may come, but I don’t think it would tremendously enhance the user experience for most mobile workers.

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