Pick up an iPad running iOS 9 later this fall, and you might almost confuse it for a laptop. That seems to be the goal of many of the iPad-specific features Apple has planned for iOS 9, adding multitasking capabilities and new keyboard features to its tablet.
Apple previewed the next version of its mobile operating system at its Worldwide Developers Conference today (June 8). And while many of the features highlighted by the company -- a more context-aware Proactive Assistant search feature and support for public transit in the Maps app -- apply to all iOS devices, some iPad-centric features got a fair amount of time in the keynote spotlight.
Multitasking: Take That, Surface!
Easily the biggest change in iOS 9 for iPad users will be enhanced multitasking support. Up until now, multitasking in the iPad meant jumping from one app to the next or, for the truly fancy, using a four-finger gesture to swipe between apps. Apple is enhancing your multitasking capabilities considerably in iOS 9, giving you the ability to run apps side by side.
Specifically, using iOS 9's Slide Over feature, a leftward swipe on your iPad will bring a new app into a pane alongside the main window of the app you're working in. You could be reading messages in Mail and decide you want to consult something you jotted down in Notes, for example; a swipe would bring up Notes, right next to the Mail window. If you want to take a glance at a different app, just swipe down in the Slide Over pane to bring up a list of other apps.
If you want to keep both apps in view, just tap on the divider between them. That launches a split pane view in which both panes remain active. You're able to use both at once if you take the idea of multitasking very literally. With split view, the app you've pinned to the side of the screen remains there, even if you launch another app.
Picture in Picture
The other big multitasking addition to iOS 9 involves a picture-in-picture feature that allows you to watch streaming video in one window while continuing to work in another. Demoing the feature, Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi started off by watching streaming video from the WatchESPN app. Tapping the video shrunk it down to a smaller window and summoned up a different app.
Federighi was able to sort through Messages in Mail while his video continued to play; he could even reize the video window, move it out of the way of anything on his iPad screen or even push it off to the side of the tablet so that he could continue to listen to audio while having most of the whole screen devoted to another app.
Developers will have access to software writing tools that will allow them to build support for multitasking into the iOS 9-ready versions of their apps. The bottom line: By the time iOS 9 rolls around, you should be able to stack up more than just Apple's own apps side by side.
Easier App Switching
In addition to these multitasking features, Apple is also modifying the task switcher in iOS 9. The task switcher now offers a full screen preview of all the apps, fanned out in a carousel-like view that appeared vaguely reminiscent of OS X's Cover Flow view.
Not every iPad user is going to be able to take advantage of these multitasking features. Apple says that Slide Over and Picture In Picture will work with the iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2 and iPad Mini 3 (as well as any new iPad Apple releases between now and iOS 9's fall debut, presumably). The Split View capability will be limited to the iPad Air 2.
QuickType Turns Keyboard into Touchpad
Changes to the QuickType keyboard in iOS 9 further emphasize how your iPad experience is going to be more laptop-like. Besides suggested words, the bar above the keyboard adds shortcuts for functions like cut and paste, formatting text, and adding attachments. There's also a camera shortcut for easily adding images to whatever you're typing.
Apple also added new multitouch functionality to the keyboard. Place two fingers on the iPad's keyboard and you turn it into a virtual trackpad, letting you move around the cursor, select text and drag entire selections to new parts of a document. "You can edit more quickly than ever before, without your fingers leaving the home row," Federighi said.
If you use an external keyboard with your iPad, iOS 9 supports keyboard shortcuts as well as an application switching shortcut similar to the Command-Tab functionality in OS X. And while it's not iPad-specific, tablet owners will definitely appreciate the promised under-the-hood improvements in iOS 9 that will let you squeeze another hour of battery life out of your existing iPad.
iOS 9 arrives this fall, though if you'd like to experience some of the changes first-hand on your iPad, a public beta will be available in July -- the first time ever Apple is releasing a public beta of its mobile OS. It might take new hardware, like a bigger screen iPad Pro, to fully take advantage of all of these new features, but existing iPad owners will also get a significant productivity boost.