iPad and iOS 9

In case you missed it today, between awkward speechifying from the likes of Drake and awkward grooving from the likes of Eddie Cue, Apple’s 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference keynote included mention of a number of new, iPad-specific features as part of the forthcoming iOS 9. A few of them, like picture-in-picture support for video players, slide over, and split view, finally take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen real estate by allowing users to see more than one app at a time.

iPad and iOS 9

There are also new, improved input methods: a shortcut bar that appears above the software keyboard adds icons for common editing functions like copy/paste and text formatting; more convenient and presumably easier text selection through two-finger gesturing anywhere on the screen; and even enhanced support for external keyboards and command-key shortcuts—including a process switching interface invoked via command-tab.

iPad and iOS 9

None of these features is particularly original but they’re notable at least insofar that they hint that Apple might be starting to attend to the iPad with more resources and urgency than it has in recent years. It’s no secret that even though the overall volume of iPad sales remains significant, numbers are clearly trending downwards, and it will take more of these kinds of efforts—many more, perhaps—to reverse that trend.

I’ve written several times that the fact that the iPad has been in virtual lockstep with the iPhone in feature development has been a drag on the former’s evolution. Today’s announced features are a step in the right direction, but you could easily come up with a list of additional features that would dramatically distinguish the iPad from its sibling—and for the better. A few of my favorite would be:

  • Support for multiple user accounts—this was rumored, alas it was not to be
  • Ability to receive (not just send) AirPlay audio and video
  • Universal access to the iOS dock, similar to Control Center
  • More robust, visually engaging Reader View, perhaps one that’s available within third-party apps as well
  • A more visually elegant Notification Center that capitalizes on the larger screen real estate

And that’s not even mentioning the hardware improvements that you could make: a Force Touch screen, programmable hardware buttons embedded in the device’s bezel, and improved support for styluses come to mind (though I’m generally not enthusiastic about that last one, in spite of its popularity). The point is, virtually anything that can distinguish these tablets from their smartphone siblings is going to help the cause.

Still, I am heartened by today’s announcements because even the promise of these few improvements seems to be breathe new life into the device. In fact, while watching the keynote, I overheard a colleague say about these features, “I might start using my iPad again.” That’s what we want, Apple, only a lot more of it.

See Apple’s rundown of what’s coming in iOS 9 at apple.com.