The multitasking interface in iPadOS 15 is not aging well for me

It didn’t take too long after I installed iPadOS on my iPad mini 5 for me to restore order to my app-icon grid–even if I’m still tweaking that arrangement and dreading the moment when the next iPad system update sends it higgledy piggledy. But another part of Apple’s tablet operating system continues to grind my gears: its multitasking options.

I can’t fault Apple for trying to make this UI more discoverable. In the previous release, I had to look up how to run one app on a third of the screen and leave the other two-thirds to another app every time I wanted to have the clock app and my notes visible side by side for a virtual panel. But in iPadOS 15, I have the opposite problem–the system keeps thinking I’m trying to split the screen between two apps when I have no such intention.

The most common scenario involves me wanting to go to a different site in Safari, when tapping the browser’s address bar routinely invokes the three-dot multitasking button that Apple added to iPadOS 15. That bit of chrome may stay out of the way more often on a larger-screen iPad, but on the 7.9-in. display of my iPad mini, it’s a different story. There, only a few millimeters of screen real estate–either from the top of the screen to the address bar, or between the center of the address bar and address-bar controls like the text-size/display/privacy button and 1Password’s button–seem to separate me from successfully entering a Web address or having the multitasking button thwart that attempt.

The other involves a situation almost as common: iPadOS flashes a notification, and I swipe down to see what it was. From the home screen, this continues to work as it did before–but in an app, iPadOS keeps acting as if I’d meant to invoke the Split View multitasking display by tapping that dreaded three-dot button. Eventually, I will reprogram my muscle memory to swipe slightly off-center to avoid running my finger across that ellipsis icon, except the home-screen behavior keeps telling me I don’t have to change.

So here I am, more than six months after installing this update, and I’m still thumb-wrestling my way around one of its core features. And I’m not alone in feeling this irritated, to judge from my mom’s review of this wayward user experience: “the most distracting thing in the world.” She’s right, and Apple’s wrong.

Weekly output: Qwoted, 5G frontiers, T-Mobile turns off TVision, pay-TV-free MLB, Mark Vena podcast, “Other” iOS storage

It’s Easter Sunday, and my favorite sign of reborn life today is the CDC reporting another 3.37 million coronavirus vaccine doses administered yesterday.

3/29/2021: ‘Qwestion’ & Answer with Rob Pegoraro, Freelance Journalist, Qwoted

This platform set up to connect experts to journalists quizzed me over e-mail at the end of last year.

Screengrab of my CCA panel, showing one panelist's cat perching on this chair.

3/30/2021: New Frontiers For 5G, Mobile Carriers Show

A year ago, I was supposed to moderate a panel discussion about 5G wireless possibilities at the Competitive Carriers Association’s spring conference. That event got scrubbed, and then I wound up doing an online panel about 5G at the same organization’s virtual event this spring. My fellow panelists: T-Mobile chief network officer Ulf Ewaldsson, U.S. Cellular chief technology officer Mike Irizarry (his cat makes a cameo in the screengrab here), Ericsson consumer lab head Jasmeet Sethi, and Nex-Tech Wireless director of operations, network and engineering Nathan Sutter (who somehow has his caption swapped with mine in the screengrab above). Two days later, panel host Fierce Wireless wrote up our talk.

3/30/2021: T-Mobile Turning Off TVision, Will Bundle Philo And YouTube TV Instead, Forbes

T-Mobile dumping the streaming TV service it launched half a year ago, and which I wrote up at the time, made this an obvious story candidate. 

4/1/2021: As Streaming Services Drop Baseball Networks, Many Cord-Cutters Can Only Say ‘Wait Till Next Year’, Forbes

This year’s version of what’s become an annual fixture covered how multiple streaming-TV providers have run away from the regional sports networks that carry most baseball games, and which have socked local viewers with regional-sports-network fees that increase a little more every year. 

4/1/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (4-1-21), Mark Vena

This week’s episode of this podcast (also available in video form) involved my gripes about the thin availability of baseball games on streaming TV (see above), Amazon’s clumsy stabs at persuading politicians and their voters via Twitter, and more. 

4/2/2021: What does ‘Other’ mean in your device storage? Dealing with the dark matter of iPhone and iPad data, USA Today

Once again, a family member’s request for tech support led to a tech-support column for USAT.

Updated 4/6/2021 to add a link to the video version of Vena’s podcast.

Six updates in, iPadOS still needs work

It hasn’t even been two months since Apple shipped iPadOS, but in that time the tablet offshoot of iOS 13 has seen six maintenance updates–from iPadOS 13.1.1 to 13.2.3.

That plethora of patches has squashed some obvious bugs, like the ones that made Dock shortcuts to recently-opened non-Apple apps inert. They have not, however, cured other trying aspects of iPadOS:

• The new QuickPath gesture-typing option is, for some reason, confined to the floating keyboard you can invoke, not the standard-sized one. Has nobody at Apple tried using Google’s Gboard?

• The new multiple-windows option for an app is buried beneath a long-press of a Dock icon–sufficiently hidden that I did not realize that feature existed until reading Ars Technica’s iPadOS review.

• I appreciate Apple’s attempts to make me aware when apps request my location in the background, but after being nagged 10 times about my choice to let the Dark Sky weather app check my coordinates in the background, I’d appreciate having an option to the effect of “I know what I’m doing and you can stop asking about this.”

• Seeing which apps have updates or have been recently updated takes more steps than in iOS 12–presumably, so that Apple could use that spot at the bottom of the App Store app to promote its Apple Arcade subscription gaming service.

• The process of moving app icons around feels even more maddening than before, especially if I happen to drop an app inside a folder by mistake. Meanwhile, the OS still affords no relief from its inflexible app grid; I can’t leave a row or a column blank as negative space to set off particular icons.

• AirDrop remains as enabling of anonymous harassment as ever.

• I still see display glitches like the charming overlap of portrait and landscape screen modes shown in the screengrab above.

It’s not that I regret installing iPadOS–some of the new features, like the privacy-preserving Sign in with Apple option, are only starting to reveal their promise. Others, such as the Sidecar Mac screen-mirroring option, require newer hardware than the aging iMac on which I’m typing this. But seeing these obscure, illogical or insensitive bits of user experience, I can’t help thinking of all the times I’ve taken a whack at Windows for the same sort of design stumbles.