No split-screen multitasking in iOS 8 is a huge missed opportunity

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Yesterday, Apple kick-started its annual developer conference, WWDC 2014, with a bang.

To no surprise at all, it announced a newer version of OS X, Yosemite, alongside the anticipated update to its mobile platform, iOS 8.

And like I so wittingly predicted, Apple has continued its slow marriage of the two contrasting operating systems. Many of the new features for both platforms allow users to start a task on one device and finish on the other, what Apple calls Continuity. For instance, you can start typing a message in iMessage on the iPad and finish typing it on the Mac. Or with iMessage now having SMS sync, you can continue to carry on SMS conversations through iMessage on the computer. Or when your iPhone rings, you can answer it from the desktop – no hassle.

Apple even treated iOS users to one of the most requested features (read: shortcomings) for its mobile platform: it updated the keyboard. The stock iOS keyboard now features context-aware predictive text input. It offers suggested words, based on the conversation you’re having and even who you’re talking to.

Better yet, Apple has finally opened up support for third-party keyboards, meaning we may soon see some of out favorite third-party keyboards from Android on Apple’s own mobile OS in the not too distant future.

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A host of new, useful features were added, as well. Siri now works better and identifies songs using Shazam; Spotlight search is more intelligent, offering Wikipedia entries, nearby locations, news, etc.; favorite and recent contacts have been added to the task switching menu; and iCloud Drive syncs all types of flies across all your Apple devices for access anywhere. Families can share iTunes, Books, even app purchases from App Store through Family Sharing. And you can even share you health stats with your doctor or trainer, straight from your iPhone using the new Health app.

ipad-air-review-12In all the advancements and improvements, Apple has still somehow managed to forget something incredibly important, particularly for iPad owners: multitasking.

Despite rumors that suggested a drastic change, multitasking in iOS 8 – or task switching rather – is no different than before. Double-press the home button to open a small preview of all the most recent applications. Tap one to jump from the current app to a previously used app.

It works, but it’s somewhat disjointed. If you’re copying and pasting information from a Web page into, say, an email or text conversation, you have to constantly keep switching back and forth between apps. It’s nonstop and and grow quite frustrating over time. You can streamline the process some by using the built-in multitasking gestures. Four-finger swiping left or right will chronologically flip you between all your most recent apps. A four-finger swipe upwards will open the recent apps menu. And a five-finger pinch will take you back to the Home screen.

Still, these gestures only amplify how poor multitasking is on the iPad. The rumors that stated iOS 8 would come with a split-screen state did not pan out, and there is no way to perform more than one task at a time. I can’t browse the Web and watch a YouTube video at the same time. I can’t look at Twitter and iMessage without jumping back and forth between apps. And I definitely can’t keep Safari open while I write articles in iA Writer.

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It’s unfortunate and a huge missed opportunity on Apple’s part.

Apple is quickly losing ground in the tablet space. For Q1 2014, Samsung held 23 percent of the global tablet market share, up from 17.9 percent the same quarter last year. By comparison, Apple has fallen from 39.6 percent of global shipments in Q1 2013 to 30 percent last quarter. This is mainly due to the sheer number of its competitors and also the cheaper alternatives. Where Apple has a variety of the same two models, iPad mini and iPad Air, Samsung has two different tablet lineups, Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Note, both of which come in multiple sizes and styles (ex: Tab vs Tab Pro).

Factor that in with the more rapid advancement of Android, paired with some of Samsung’s most prominent features like Multi-Window, and it’s clear to see just why Apple’s losing so much ground so quickly in the tablet space.

As an owner of countless Android tablets and iPads over the years, Apple seemingly still offers one of the most well-rounded, polished tablets on the market. Nothing else quite comes close in build quality, and the application support is second to none. That still doesn’t change the fact that the iPad mini and iPad Air would be far more useful to me with true multitasking.

I consider myself an iPad power user. I don’t go anywhere without the ZAGGkeys Cover on my iPad mini; I have over 100 applications installed on it and I use most of them regularly; and I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate it into my life.

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Quite literally the only thing I want or need in the iPad that I cannot get is true multitasking – the ability to look at Google Sheets and create my week’s schedule in Todoist at the same time, or the ability to read stories in Reeder while looking at my Twitter timeline in Tweetbot.

While I’m not convinced the Surface Pro 3 is the device for me, the split-pane view is immensely helpful and useful. And it would be rather fitting on the 7.9-inch iPad mini or 9.7-inch iPad Air displays.

Continuity and a predictive text keyboard are cool and all, but I can’t think of a time I’ve ever thought, “Oh, I should stop typing this half-written message and finish it on the computer.” Every time such a situation occurs, I just send what I already have and pick up in Messages on the MacBook, or delete what I have and start over. And many families I know already share an iTunes account.

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Point being, in the last few years, Apple has started focusing on granular features which might help a small number of users in specific use cases. But those use cases are sometimes extremely niche. More intensive features, like a split-pane multitasking view (ahem … a la TouchWiz) would greatly benefit a large swath of users.

Granted, this is just an early beta of iOS 8. We heard last week that Apple may be holding the feature back due to it still being unfinished. It’s not unreasonable that Apple will continue working on the feature and squeeze it in when it announces the iPhone 6 later this year. That wouldn’t be a first. Here’s to hoping.

What say you, folks? Did Apple miss the perfect opportunity to add true multitasking to its iPad lineup? Or are the other features introduced more important than multitasking?

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+