Developer discovers split screen in iOS 8 code

If the hint becomes reality, iPads would use three pane sizes to show two apps side-by-side

A developer yesterday claimed code within iOS 8 pointed to a split-screen mode, suggesting that earlier rumors of the iPad embracing the personal computer-like capability had some basis in fact.

"Just in case there was any doubt left ... iOS 8's SpringBoard has code to run two apps side-by-side. 1/4 size, 1/2 size, or 3/4 size," tweeted Steven Troughton-Smith, the founder and CEO of mobile app developer High Caffeine Content.

SpringBoard is the name of the application that manages the iOS home screen. Among SpringBoard's duties is to launch apps and jumpstart WindowServer, the iOS/OS X component that draws the screen.

That tweet and others by Troughton-Smith said the SpringBoard code indicated two apps could display simultaneously on a screen, with the panes either one-third, one-half or two-thirds of the width of an iPad display when held in landscape mode.

In other words, an iPad screen could be split between two apps of equal width (50-50), or when the first app occupied one-third of the screen and the second one-thirds (33/66).

It was unclear how developers would handle split-screen opportunities, a potential problem as they may be required to revamp their apps' user interfaces (UIs), account for multiple resolutions, or both.

Talk first surfaced about a possible split-screen addition to iOS 8 last month when 9to5Mac.com claimed the new operating system would offer the productivity-enhancing feature. If accurate, said analysts, it implied Apple would push the iPad to become more palatable to business users.

Comparisons were quickly drawn between the purported iOS split-screen mode and Microsoft's Windows 8.1 because the latter offers multi-app, split-screen views in its "Modern," nee "Metro," UI. Windows 8.1 allows two-app views of 50-50, 30/70 and 40/60, with additional three-app (33/33/33) and four-app (25/25/25/25) options on sufficiently-high-resolution displays. Microsoft has made the feature a selling point for its oft-maligned OS -- and for its own Surface tablet line -- and criticized the iPad for lacking something similar.

Because Apple did not mention iOS split-screen during its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote last week, some have assumed that the feature will not make it into iOS 8's initial iteration. While that may turn out to be the case -- 9to5Mac.com has said there's a chance the feature won't appear until 8.1 -- Apple also has a habit of withholding information until launch to provide a surprise or two, particularly when it has hardware to trumpet.

Last year's Touch ID was an example: It wasn't until Apple unveiled the iPhone 5S in September that Apple revealed how iOS 7 used the fingerprint scanner.

Apple is expected to launch new hardware -- certainly a new iPhone, probably also a new iPad -- this fall. The split-screen mode of iOS 8 would be a smart complement to an iPad with a screen larger than the current 9.7-in. standard, some have said. "Split-screen gives you something to do with all that space of a larger iPad," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an interview four weeks ago. "So it fits in with the rumored larger commercial device."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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