iOS 9's split-screen modes signal bigger iPad in the works

iPad-only features in new OS finally bring multi-app, multi-window multi-tasking to Apple's tablet

iPad Air 2 split view

Apple on Monday gave a strong hint that it has a larger iPad in the works, analysts said today.

"Sometimes Apple gives us signs of where they're going next," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, in an interview Tuesday. "The split screen hints at a larger iPad."

Milanesi was referring to several new features Apple touted Monday during the keynote address that opened its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

Craig Federighi, Apple's chief of OS X and iOS development, demonstrated a pair of new iOS 9 features, one dubbed "Split View," the other "Slide Over."

The former lets users see two iPad apps in a side-by-side split, work with either or both, and copy and paste content from one to the other. Split View will work only on Apple's top-tier tablet, the iPad Air 2.

Slide Over, meanwhile, lets users select and drag a secondary app onto the screen, atop the primary, in a 30-70 split, without dismissing the latter. Once the work -- envisioned as quick tasks like responding to an incoming text -- is done in the secondary, it's slid off-screen with a swipe. Slide Over will work with the iPad Air and Air 2, and the iPad Mini 2 and 3.

The idea, said Federighi, is to make the iPad more like a PC in functionality, although he didn't say it in so many words. "For many of them, their iPad is their primary computer," said Federighi of tablet users in schools, businesses and homes.

To analysts like Milanesi, iOS 9's new windows management modes -- and the multi-app management they require -- signaled that Apple would soon release the long-rumored larger-screen iPad.

Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research agreed. "They're enhancing the capabilities of the iPad as a business tool, but [Split View and Slide Over] will work better on a even larger screen. I got the impression that Apple wants to move some of their keyboard-using customers to iOS."

Talk of a larger iPad -- one with a screen of 12-in. rather than the current maximum of 9.7-in. -- has circulated almost since the tablet's 2010 debut. Even the launch last month of the Retina MacBook, a 12-in. ultra-light laptop, hasn't quieted analysts' predictions that Apple would venture into the bigger size, just as it did last year with the iPhone 6 Plus.

Rumors of a split-screen mode in iOS have popped up periodically as well. More than a year ago, weeks prior to 2014's WWDC, chatter intensified, with experts seeing sales opportunities in education and business as consumer tablet sales stagnated.

Milanesi interpreted other Federighi comments of Monday as vetoing Apple producing its own iPad keyboard in an attempt to make a 2-in-1 analogous to Microsoft's Surface Pro. "Look at what they showed with the iPad, with the keyboard becoming a touchpad," she said of a Federighi demo of controlling the cursor in a document with a two-finger gesture that could use the entire screen, even overtop the on-glass keyboard. "To Apple, touch needs to be horizontal. They're not interested in a hybrid."

Federighi also talked up how iOS 9 will make existing third-party Bluetooth keyboards better and more productive, another clue to Milanesi that Apple would not craft its own accessory.

Gottheil countered, saying he's not ready to give up on his prediction -- now years in the making -- that Apple will build its own keyboard, then marry it to a larger iPad for a Surface competitor.

"[A keyboard] makes more sense if you're making a larger iPad," Gottheil argued. "Others have proven that those kinds of devices can be fairly successful."

Apple has launched revamped or new iPads in late October or early November the last three years, and there's no reason to expect different this year. If so, a larger iPad -- with or without an Apple-branded keyboard -- would probably see daylight then.

Both Milanesi and Gottheil pointed out, as have countless bloggers in the last 24 hours, that iOS 9's Split View and Slide Over are not, by any stretch, original ideas. Microsoft's Windows 7 debuted with "Snap" -- a side-by-side view -- in 2009, and the feature was promoted to an even more prominent position in Windows 8 and 8.1. Microsoft has, in fact, used the multi-tasking, multi-window capabilities of its Surface and Surface Pro to poke fun at the iPad in television spots.

"Is that copying? Sure," said Gottheil. "For Apple, it's whatever works. I don't think that any company, not even Apple, exerts any pride there."

Milanesi was more diplomatic. "At the end of the day, it's true it's copying," she said. "People are always borrowing, everyone is looking at everyone. But I always get the feel that Apple goes an extra step. In iOS 9, you swipe down and change the app [in the secondary role] then and there."

iOS 9 multi iPad windows Apple

Apple's developer documentation showed how apps should be written to take advantage of the multiple screen sizes to support Split View and Slide Over on the iPad. 

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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