When Apple debuted the first iPad in 2010, many argued it was better for consuming content rather than creating it. Sure, you could get some stuff done with the then-limited supply of third-party apps, but the tablet's inability to truly multitask and its lack of a keyboard left it hobbled compared to the trusty old laptop.
iOS 9 may not put a nail in that theory's coffin, but the lid is firmly in place.
With its new mobile operating system, Apple specifically targeted productivity on the iPad with several features. They go a long way toward helping the iPad become a more complete tool.
The first is a feature called Slide Over. With it, iPad owners can open a second app without leaving the app they're already using. For example, it lets people browse the Web or respond to a message, and then slide the app away to return to the first.
The second is called Split View and is the real money ticket for which mobile professionals have been howling. Split View adds multitasking to the iPad. It places two apps in separate, side-by-side panels so people can use those apps at the same time. This is a huge jump forward for the iPad. For example, users can have a Safari tab open for reference while composing an email. (Apple isn't the first to add this feature to a tablet. Samsung already offers split-screen functionality on its Galaxy Tab devices.) The down side is Split View is limited to the iPad Air 2, which was released last fall. It won't be available on older iPads.
iOS 9 heralds the arrival of picture-in-picture, too.
If you're watching a video or holding a FaceTime chat, a press of the Home button scales the video screen down and places it in the corner of the display. Simply tap any other app and the video player will stay on top and continue playing. Apple didn't specify which apps will support this feature. Presumably any video-enabled app, such as YouTube, HBO Now, and others, will be able to offer picture-in-picture playback.
These three additions tackle part of the productivity equation. Apple tackled the rest with improvements to the iPad's keyboard application.
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iPad users will be happy to see the addition of a shortcut bar. It sits on top of the keyboard and provides quick access to copy and paste functions, as well as to formatting tools in order to italicize text or make it bold. Moreover, Apple is giving developers access to the shortcut bar so they can customize it for their own apps.
Apple also addressed the horror that is selecting text on the screen. A new multitouch tool adds control over the iPad's cursor by using two fingers anywhere on the screen. This dramatically improves the ability to select, edit, and move text around.
Last, Apple updated how the iPad interacts with Bluetooth keyboards. Typing on glass only gets you so far, and sometimes real keys are the best option. Now, the iPad lets people control certain functions, such as bringing up Search, directly from a wireless keyboard. Developers will be allowed to add shortcuts of their own to apps, as well.
The iPad may never replace the laptop for some mobile pros, but it is certainly a more compelling option with iOS 9 aboard. These features also line up nicely with the oft-rumored iPad Pro, which some expect to arrive with a 13-inch screen this fall. iOS 9 and a big screen may make the iPad the killer productivity device we've wanted all along.