The iOS community is in late summer holding mode awaiting the September arrival of the iPhone 8 and iOS 11. iOS 11 public betas have been available for months — number six was released this week — but I value stability on my iPad, which I use for production, and haven’t downloaded a beta, being happy to let others iron out the bugs.
iOS 11 may arguably be the most thoroughgoing and extensive upgrade yet of what started out as Apple’s iPhone OS back in 2007, especially for iPad users, and I’ll be keenly interested in checking out how its slate of new features work on my iPad Air 2 in the final version when it’s released next month. However, I can’t say that I’m terribly excited about iOS 11, at least based on what I’ve heard and read about it so far.
Probably most interesting is that with iOS 11 the iPad finally gets a user-accessible file directory with a new app called ‘Files’ that functions in iOS devices as a sort of substitute for the macOS Finder. According to Apple, Files allows users to browse, search and organize all their files in one central place, with a dedicated space for recently created or modified files. The app provides centralized access to individual files, whether they be stored locally or in iCloud Drive, or on other cloud services like Dropbox, Mega, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, and others. If it works transparently the way Dropbox does, Files will be a major advance for iOS users.
Multi-Touch Drag and Drop, on the other hand sounds like another somewhat cumbersome excuse for the real mouse input support the iOS needs in order to be a really satisfactory production tool. Multi-Touch Drag and Drop will provide iPad users with the ability to drag and drop selected documents, blocks of text, images, apps, and other files from one app window to another anywhere on the screen using tap and hold without need of switching apps. These capabilities are intended to compliment and amplify the usefulness of the enhanced multitasking features of Split View and Slide Over that were introduced in iOS 9 back in 2015 that made it possible to have two app windows open at a time. That’s still not nearly as versatile and flexible as the full multi-windowing supported by the macOS or Windows, including Windows touchscreen and tablet devices. Android also has mouse support. Fingers simply can’t match the precision of a pointing device like a mouse or trackpad.
The iOS has long had Bluetooth support for external keyboards, so why Apple continues to doggedly resist adding a Bluetooth mouse driver to the mobile operating system is a puzzlement. Apple’s pricy Pencil stylus is simply not an adequate mouse substitute for many of us. For the iPad to be an efficient productivity tool and serious challenger to a laptop it also needs some sort of removable expansion and a standard connectivity interface, with SD Card and USB-C being the logical candidates. Of course you don’t even get an SDCard slot on the MacBook Pro these days.
iOS 11 also gets a new customizable persistent Dock that can be toggled to provide quick access to frequently used apps and documents from any screen using a swipe gesture, and a redesigned app switcher that brings macOS Spaces/Mission Control type functionality to iOS, making it easier to move between apps or pairs of active apps opened in Split View and Slide Over. All to the good, but more evolutionary than revolutionary. For example, iOS 11 will still only support a maximum of three windows open simultaneously (or four if you count a Picture-in-Picture video). Also still missing are macOS Spotlight style content level document search capability, a major shortcoming for me in finding stuff in my own files and research archives. So is the inability to select and copy text from PDF files in regular iOS apps like browsers, which can be a showstopper.
Will iOS 11’s new iPad features and multitasking enhancements prove flexible, versatile, and efficient enough to boost productivity performance into laptop territory? Maybe for some users, but not for me, and I assume many others. They’re welcome steps in the right direction, but Apple still won’t commit to going the distance. I love my iPad within its limitations, which now be somewhat less limiting in iOS 11, but I’ll still be needing my MacBook.
iOS 11 supported iPad models include all iPad Pros, the new entry-level 5th-generaton 9.7-inch iPad and other 64-bit iPad models, including the original iPad Air and Air 2 and the iPad minis 2, 3, and 4. If your iPad is supported with iOS 10, it will likewise run iOS 11.