iPad is Growing up, looking to see how it evolves at WWDC23

As we head into WWDC 23, I wanted to share my experience about how much better iPad has gotten over the last 12 months, particularly with the introduction of Stage Manager and external display support. I have been using my iPad nearly exclusively since the fall, and it’s been quite a success. It’s not perfect, but the device and its OS are so much more capable than ever before.

This post is not for everyone. Writing about iPad always seems to generate so much controversy. While I hope this post does not create controversy, I wanted to tread into the waters about how good the iPad has gotten, which may not be true for the kind of computing everyone of us here on MPU does. Still, it maybe that for most of us iPad really is the equivalent or close equivalent of a laptop of desktop.

I’ve written a lot about the iPad in the forum over the years, and my feelings for it have been bullish, bearish, and (currently) bullish. I’ve collected some of those posts here and have inserted them where they are contextually relevant.

For example, in February 2020, I wrote about my macOS Renaissance, and many other MPUers wrote about their frustration with iPadOS and iOS:

A year ago in January, I wrote about why I generally like to pull out my MacBook Pro instead of my iPad here:

My mood has changed over the years not because I’m a fickle tech blogger who needs something to write about, but as the iPad has succeeded or failed at serving my needs. It has swung significantly towards the positive after the improvements that came in iPadOS 16, because with these improvements my iPad has become a functional workstation for me.

But why bother with this at all? Honestly, I don’t fully know. I like the iPad. For those of you who dislike it, I can’t give you any meaningful reasons as to why I feel otherwise. I suspect it’s the modularity, the ability to use the pencil, the touch interface, and especially, how “out of the way” it is. With a laptop, you have this clamshell and the screen creates a barrier between you and the rest of the world. You don’t have that with an iPad. That is really cool when using it in any context that also includes being with other people: interviews; conferences; court hearings (for me, but not everyone); at school, church, synagogue; in clinical settings; in the field; and anything else you can dream up. With the cellular modem, you can work from it literally anywhere. I’ve gotten tons of things done in the strangest of places thanks to my iPad.

I do not write any of this to persuade anybody to like the iPad. iPad is a tool. If it works for you, great. If not, that’s fine, too.

Because this is so long, let me give you an outline of where we are going. Also, I’ve bolded the headings for somewhat easy navigation.

  • First, I share a bit about my accessories and set up, so you know what I’m working with.

  • Second, I cover generally how I use a computer. This is only valuable for you to see whether my use case and yours are close enough to merit reading further.

  • Third, I talk about the difference makers for me that came in iOS 16: stage manager; external display support; and improved file management.

  • Fourth, I talk about the impact of third-party software.

  • Fifth, I have some comments on the iPadOS vs. macOS debate.

  • Sixth, I outline some problem areas that I’ve encountered.

Accessories and set up

Because of the iPad’s modularity, I have a number of different set ups that I use. At my office, my iPad Pro (I use the 12.9” M1) is set up like a desktop computer. It sits on a MagSafe stand. I’s docked in an OWC Thunderbolt dock. Connected to that dock is an ethernet cable, my 27” Apple Thunderbolt Display, and a Blue Yeti Nano. Via bluetooth, my keyboard and trackpad are connected.

When I travel, I take my iPad, the magic keyboard, and my Apple Pencil in a distressed leather sleeve from Crazy Horse Craft. I don’t even have to carry a briefcase most of the time.

For Court and other places where I might be called on to present, I have an accessory kit with various hubs, dongles, cables, USB drives, and chargers.

In the barest form, which I use surprisingly frequently, it’s just my bare iPad and the Pencil.

How I use a computer

Let me tell you how I use a computer, so you can decide whether my needs are close enough to yours to determine whether to even read further. I am not a graphic designer, artist, video editor, producer, or other type of creative professional. I don’t use or even have video editing software on my iPad. (Well, I do have and play with iMovie.) I am also not a professional software developer; I am an on-and-off hobbyist, though, and even have code published on GitHub.

I do a lot of reading, writing, communicating, and file management. I like some automation, so I use Shortcuts for a number of things. Occasionally, but not that often, I work in spreadsheets. I have a set of professional apps that I use extensively called the Lit Suite. Like (probably) everyone else here, I do a lot of productivity work on my iPad. Task/project management; managing finances; and the like. Of course, I do the fun things, too: watching movies; listening to music; etc. There are more things that I do, but those are the high-level categories that will help you locate and compare my day-to-day usage with your own.

When I actually roll up my sleeves and work on the computer, I generally have a lot open and active: lots of finder windows open; multiple Word documents; multiple PDFs; a Scrivener project; all my communication tools (email, messages, Twitter, Slack); and a variety of other tools depending on what I’m working on. One of the things that I seem to do a lot is move information from one place to another. Text from a PDF needs to go into a Word Document; a note in an e-mail needs to be saved in some aspect of my client file; various pieces of information need to be captured in my knowledgebase; and I’m constantly working with files and the file system.

Almost all of this I can now do entirely on iPad with nearly no difficulties. It’s not all rosy. There are problem areas that I still come across, which I discuss toward the end.

Difference makers - Stage manager; external display; and improved file management

Stage Manager

The addition of Stage Manager and serious external display support, along with vastly improved third-party software, have enabled me to use my iPad almost exclusively for all my computing tasks. As a result, I can go for extended periods without opening my MacBook Pro, and not even think about it.

I liked multitasking on iPad prior to the addition of Stage Manager. I had developed all sorts of work flows that made me efficient using Split View and Slide Over.

Stage Manager is an improvement because it enables me to work with more apps and work with them more fluidly then before. In my docked configuration at my office, with Stage Manager I often forget that I’m working from my iPad (except when I hit the problem areas). App navigation, window sizing, window arranging, and the like all work fine and reliably. There are some problem areas that I’ve run into, some of which I’ll touch on later in this post, but mostly the experience has been easy and efficient for me. I’ve written a lot on my views of Stage Manager, so I won’t repeat them in this post. Here they are if you wish to go deeper:

External Display

External display support is terrific. I have a multi-display set-up now, can easily move widows between iPad and external display, and can get all the apps that I need access on screen (or close by in the Recent Apps). Take a look at the section on problem areas to see some challenges I’ve experienced on the external display.

File Management

I do a lot of file management, and I used to have a ton of trouble using the Files App. Since iPadOS 16, I’ve had no problem with Files. It works great at handling almost all my file management needs. Multiple Files windows, file information, access to extensions, and the host of iPadOS 16 updates are features that I use weekly, if not daily. They work reliably and get the job done. There are a number of things that I would like to see improved, which I discuss below.

Third-Party Software

In my prior posts, the complaint I’ve leveled the most has to do with poor third-party software. Crippled apps. Apps that are not well supported. Apps that migrated directly from Windows or macOS without any thought to iPad design patterns. Those were all the bane of my existence. Lately, something has changed. Many third-party developers are investing more heavily in better designed iPad apps and are working to bring their desktop and mobile apps closer to feature parity.

There are a number of third-party apps that are “iPad first” designs that have always been world class on iPad. The Lit Suite apps that I mentioned above, and the Omni Groups apps are good examples.

Microsoft Word is a good example of an app that is screaming for improvement. The iPad app is quite good, but it is so feature-poor compared to desktop Word that it makes it difficult to use it for much more than a text editor. That’s okay for me, in my work. I have other team members who can do document formatting and heavier-duty word processing tasks. Nevertheless, I’d like to be able to accomplish those things (e.g., comparing documents, designing templates and styles) directly on my iPad. This is the kind of thing—a necessary third-party app that does not adequately suit one’s needs—that makes it difficult for some people to go all-in on iPad.

Beyond Word, there are a few other apps that are so much more powerful on desktop that it’s impractical to go iPad-only if you rely on them. Two examples from me. One is Scrivener. On iPad, Scrivener is a perfectly good app that gets a lot right. I even used Scrivener on iPad to compose this post. But desktop Scrivener is so much more powerful. If you want to use Scrivener to its fullest, you want the desktop app.

Another app that I use in this category is Logos Bible Software. The iPad app has been pretty good for a while, but Faithlife updated it last year and it now is so much closer to the desktop version. It’s remarkable and very feature-rich. Still, if you want to tap into the true power of the software, the desktop tools are without match.

In both of those examples, you can do fine using them on iPad. But the software is incomplete, and at some point, you have to pick up your work on the desktop.

iPadOS vs macOS

I am not now, and have never been in the “bring macOS to iPad” camp; I don’t think iPad needs it. I explained my thoughts on the issue here:

iPadOS needs to keep evolving. It needs to get so good that it can be a standalone machine for all use cases, not just ones like mine. I’ve read complaints about how someone can’t do something on iPad exactly like they do it on their Mac, or that something seems to take longer on iPad than on Mac. For a lot of those things, the real trick to master is figuring out how to do things “the iPad way.” When you do, you’ll find that a lot of what you thought was impossible or inefficient is just as easy and efficient on iPad:

Problem Areas

None of this is to say that using iPad is without problems. There are a number of things that should be a lot better. Here are a few examples. When you run a shortcut from a Spotlight search, you can’t type text into the Shortcut. Instead, it puts the text in the Spotlight search window. That’s a poor interface-bug. The floating keyboard occasionally has some glitch where it inputs text in another window.

Text input sometimes is problematic on the external display, e.g., setting time in apps that use a wheel to input time. If you use Reminders and Siri, “Remind me of this” never seems to work on the external display.

One external display annoyance I have is that every time I plug my iPad into the display, iPadOS puts it in mirrored mode. I have to go to settings and turn that off to get a separate external display. Also, some apps will blank the external display because those apps are trying to use it just to display visual content from the app. Think of presentation apps or streaming apps.

While file management is good, anything that involves batch processing is not great on iPad. Any large file management tasks that I have, I do not even start on them until I have my MacBook nearby. Batch processing in any app is the same, not just files. Here’s another random example, recently I had to import a dozen large Outlook PST files. No way to do that on an iPad. Had to do it with desktop Outlook.

I wish iPad was better at dealing with text in general. For example, having a “clear formatting” feature when pasting text is something that I need daily. Right now, I have to round trip text into a plain-text app then into the app that I ultimately want it in. That’s not terribly efficient.

A tool that would OCR and also convert PDFs to Word or text documents would be an ideal addition on the iPad for me, and would eliminate another class of functions that I can only accomplish on my Mac.

On the hardware side, I’d certainly like the iPad to handle multiple audio and video streams.

Besides these things, I put a wishlist together cataloging the big wishlist items I’d like to see addressed.


I appreciate that you’ve trudged through a very long post. The point of it all is just to share that for me—and maybe a lot of us—the iPad has matured into a platform that really can serve nearly all our computing needs. It’s not quite there, but we get closer and closer every year. I’m looking forward to this year’s improvements that will be announced at WWDC in just a few weeks.

One other point of all of these words you just read. If any of you are trying to do more with your iPads or travel with only your iPad and need some help figuring out how to do it without fear, let me know. I’m happy to help, and I know lots of other people here in MPU are, too.


I wish external display support existed on non-M1/2 iPads.


Me too. But if Apple were to allow that we would have less reason to upgrade.

Was that too cynical?

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I suspect the reason is memory. Recent pre-M1/M2 iPad range from 3-6 GB of memory and I think only the top of the line Pros had the 6 GB. Between app stability and responsiveness, driving the high resolution display of a retina iPad, I suspect that amount of memory isn’t enough to also add a full 2nd display with all that goes into that.

It’s easy to assume that everything Apple does is driven by profit (that’s capitalism after all) but I think it’s just as likely that when they say they care about the user experience I think they mean it.

Just want to say thanks for such a thoughtful post and generally agreed! Looking forward to iPadOS 17!


You may be right. The 2020 iPad Pros only had 6GB. But if LumaFusion can output full screen video to an external monitor it seems like I should be able to output a (less than retina) full screen spreadsheet.

No matter. The only time I would use the feature is around tax time.

I have to say that I really, really enjoyed this write-up. If anyone at Apple reads this forum, they need to read this post ASAP!

I really love this statement from your writeup, and I think it captures well why I keep coming back to the iPad (I have a new MBP for my main computer). I’m learning a new programming language and for that kind of work, I need a Mac. But I totally feel this statement you made — the iPad feels like it can morph into whatever I want. the Mac stays what it is: a laptop. And that’s a big barrier for me.

How did you decide on the 12.9”? I’m really tempted to go with the bigger screen when I eventually update my 2018ish iPad Pro. I like the portability of the smaller one, but I do think it can be limited when I’m actually trying to get some stuff done (I won’t work on the iPad, only personal stuff like finances, reading, writing, etc.).

I’m really itching for a new iPad and this is one of those reasons. I think full external display support would be game-changing for me and would add yet another mode I could use.

I 100% agree with this. I was impressed when Word first hit for the iPad, but I have found it hasn’t gained much ground since then. Very disappointing.

I know you said “a lot”, not “all”. But this is one of those hangups for me. First, why in the world are websites still broken on iPad vs Mac? Why can’t Apple code something in a certain way or whatever (I’m no expert) as to make the iPad/iPad OS completely indistinguishable from MacOS? I understand that prior to external device support it was more complicated since things had to be touch. But if the iPad is in a configuration where it has a pointing device, it should operate on websites exactly like a Mac-based browser. This is a huge limitation for me.

Also, I really want more coding software for iPad. I try to use GitHub Codespaces and it works in a pinch. So that’s kind of helping me bridge it over. And maybe if I had a newer iPad with better external monitor support, a better chip, and used Stage Manager, it might be good enough!

Edited to add: I also would like a backup solution that doesn’t just rely on Apple’s services. I’d like to be able to mark all photos for download and then have a Backblaze type backup solution that allows me to upload everything to the cloud for an offsite backup. Even better, let me hook up an external drive from time to time and run “TimeMachine for iPadOS” and backup my iPad to a drive without the use of a Mac.

I’ll close with another thank you. This was such a good writeup and really got me thinking what I want out of my iPad. I maintain that Apple needs to read this, internalize it, and realize the iPad future is still so bright if they would keep investing in it.


Same. I’m really in a weird spot of thinking I want to upgrade now, but also wondering if I should hold off just one more generation to see what they have in store (currently working on a 2018 iPad Pro)

This is really insightful. I have noticed my 2018 device struggles with multiple tabs in Safari/multiple apps. You are probably right on this one.

Yes. IMO, lack of a real backup is the primary difference between an iPad and a “regular” computer. And it’s the main reason I still own a laptop.


I upgraded from the 2018 to the M1 and the difference between the two in terms of multitasking and apps holding their state is substantial. It is a stark contrast. The iPad is my computer so I’ve found the upgrade really beneficial. And that was before iPadOS 16 and Stage Manager, extended display support and virtual memory.

I bought what I’m fairly certain will be my last Mac in 2022, an M1 Mac Mini with 8GB of ram. Its purpose is to be a file server, download full quality images from iCloud as well as a local copy of all my iCloud files. But in terms of speed in multi tasking and opening apps the M1 iPad Pro with 8GB of ram is, no doubt, faster. My most used apps, the Affinity suite, open in less than half the time it takes them to open on the Mac. Most apps open on the iPad instantly. The line between an open app and a closed app doesn’t really exist anymore. If I open up multi tasking I can scroll back through 4 months of open apps, 40ish app windows. Not that I actually do that but I just checked! But the point is, opening apps is nearly instantaneous for any app. And switching to my most recent used apps and thus most likely to be still in active memory, well, it happens as fast as I command-tab or open from Spotlight or tap the icon in the dock.

Safari tabs are held for quite a long time. Unless I’m going back to a tab that is a day or two old it’s usually there waiting for me. I did, just yesterday, in discussing FCP for iPad and the lack of background exporting in that app decide to try testing LumaFusion and background exporting. FCP won’t do a background export at all. LumaFusion will but only to a point.

I suspect that for most people FCP, perhaps DaVinci Resolve and LumaFusion will be the apps that stress the M1/M2 iPad Pros. That said, actually working with LumaFusion to edit is seamless with no lag or issue. And I can easily bounce to different apps and return to find my project open and waiting. Same goes for the Affinity apps.

A last note you raised in another post above, about the size of any future iPad, my suggestion is this. If you intend to use the iPad like a laptop/desktop, get the 13". Absolutely. Just as with a Mac, an 11" screen is small, too small to juggle much. Or at least it would be for me. My dad has the 11" MBA from years ago and there’s no way I could ever use it. Back in the day I had a 13" MBA and found it about right. I’m still happy with 13" most of the time. If I need bigger I can plug into an external display. I expect Apple will release a 15" iPad Pro in the next year or two.

As to whether you should wait or upgrade now, I’d say it depends on what you do. An M2 with 8GB of ram will do for almost anything. If doing a lot of video then 16GB. I expect to stick with this iPad for at least 2 to 3 more years.

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@HobbyCollector Yeah, some excellent points in your response. And also agreed on back-up to a local Time Machine option. I pretty much keep everything in iCloud and but have a local on iPad copy of the most important work files. I also back those up locally, manually to a drive and/or the Mac. It’s just a couple of folders so pretty easy to stay on top of.

On coding, with FCP and Logic for iPad, I suspect Xcode for iPad isn’t too far away. They’ve improved Swift Playgrounds each year. Xcode for iPad seems inevitable and not too far away. I think Apple’s put far too much into iPadOS to anything but continue its trajectory. The recent pro apps seem to be further evidence of that.

And echoing the original post of the thread, iPadOS, along with the default apps like Mail, Notes, Safari have come a long way. Files is now a complete and capable app, almost a match for Finder. I did a side by side comparison for a blog post a couple months ago. A more customizable toolbar, more column options in list view, better indexing of file content, smart folders. It’s so close.

Same for Mail and as pointed out above, Safari needs improvement. I actually find Safari a pleasure to use and have zero complaints based on the sites I use on a regular basis. It’s been rock solid. But I’ve seen enough people mention it to know that it still needs to be moved closer to the version of Safari on the Mac.

But day-to-day, I’m super happy with the experience and what I’m able to get done with it. Without a doubt my favorite computer thus far.

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The Affinity apps also open a lot faster on Windows and they should fix this on the Mac. Affinity used to be as fast on Mac as it is on Windows, but since two or three years it’s been annoyingly slow on Mac.

I pretty much agree with what @Denny posted in his two longer comments above. Here are a few additional thoughts.

When the 13” (I’m trying to adopt @Denny’s sensible approach of rounding the 12.9) first came out in 2015, I was firmly a 10” iPad Air 2 guy. A friend of mine got one and it kept gnawing at me how big the screen was and how useful it would be. When the 2nd gen came out in 2017, I got it and never looked back. Like you suggested, I found there was a whole class of activities that I avoided on my iPad because the screen was too small — especially when i was using the software keyboard. For me the “full-size” screen is more valuable to me because of what it enables me to do than the minor loss in portability. I don’t suspect I’d go bigger than 13”, but I wouldn’t want to go back to a smaller size.

I also don’t find there to be a big loss in portability. I don’t find myself less likely to use my iPad because it’s somehow unwieldy. I use it in bed, on the couch, and the like easily. I do find for some reading in books, I’ll grab for my phone rather than my iPad, but that’s more for things like leisure reading (e.g., novels) of the variety my 9th grade English teacher would label as schlock.

On the first part about doing things “the iPad way,” I wasn’t trying to suggest that things are always different on an iPad than on a desktop or that they are somehow backward. Things, like file management activities or opening documents, have different modes of accomplishing them than we have grown accustomed to on desktop OSes. That’s not intended as a sleight to the iPad, but a function of its touch-first UI and that it is evolving (for lack of a better word) differently from the desktop.

On the second point about broken websites, I also find that a real annoyance. I’m not sure your experience, but many of the websites I use work better on iPad today than a couple of years ago. Some, are still problematic. I hope iPadOS grows to do exactly what you are suggesting.

I, too, look forward to the day when there are are full suite of developer tools on iPad. I’ve played around with using Playgrounds, which is pretty impressive and I think gives us the feel for what Xcode or other developer tools could be. It’s fine to edit lines of code in Textastic or use GitHub or Working Copy (which is really good). But without being able to compile, execute, and debug, it’s not really all that useful. So, I can imagine why the software developers have a particular issue with iPad. That’s a true limitation.

I agree. Even being able to use Time Machine (which I appreciate is still an Apple service) would be ideal.

P.S. Thank you for your kind words!


I actually just upgraded today to the M2 iPad Pro 11” (from my 2018 iPad Pro). I decided to stick with the 11” for a couple of reasons. First, it saved me a lot of money on the device and on not needing a new keyboard. Second, I found it pretty large in the store and if I need more screen real estate I figure I can either 1) grab my 14” MBP or 2) hook the iPad up to my external display (which I’m really looking forward to trying now that I have this iPad). I think if I was doing more work on the iPad or if it was my only/main device I would grab the 13” in a heartbeat, though.

I agree nothing you wrote implied a sleight to the iPad. I do think it’s ok for Apple to re-imagine some things on the iPad because it’s touch-first, like you said. I’m even ok with Stage Manager, especially if they continue to refine it (I think it’s better than the standard multi-tasking, to be honest).

You are absolutely correct…it has gotten much better than it used to be. But when I bump on something that doesn’t work on the iPad, especially a website, it is pretty frustrating. I can’t wait for them to keep chipping away at this.

I would love XCode or even some version of it that then remotely compiles/executes on a Mac if they need. I’m currently learning Python and mainly using MS VSC. I’d even be happy with a more native tunnel into Github Codespaces and let me work there. I can kind of do this via Safari but it’s a little rough. Or I can remote into my MBP via Screens and go that way (thinking if I’m traveling or something like that). Neither solution is great, so I’d love to see more improvement in this area.

I need to check out Playgrounds some more — it’s been quite a while since I’ve poked around in there!


Great! Report back your experience using an external display. :smiley:

I think a full development / coding environment on the ipad would bring it closer to Alan Kay’s Dynabook vision.

Amused that his 1972 paper describing the Dynabook has this line:

“One can imagine one of the first programs an owner will write is a filter to eliminate advertising!”


It occurred to me that this would be easy to do with a shortcut. Select your text, tap share, tap the shortcut. Now paste without formatting. :nerd_face:

Copy text/clear formatting shortcut.


Works like a charm. Why I didn’t ever even consider this perfect use for a Shortcut, is beyond me. Nicely done.

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Not sure if this is what you had in mind. Select an image or scanned pdf, share to the shortcut and output a new text file. Pretty basic formatting though. Just the plain text output.

OCR file save new text file