Explaining Stage Manager’s M1 iPad Requirement

Originally published at: Explaining Stage Manager’s M1 iPad Requirement - TidBITS

In many ways, iPadOS 16’s marquee new feature is Stage Manager, which brings windowing to the iPad—or at least M1-based iPads. But it won’t be available on the vast majority of iPads. Are there legitimate technical limitations or is Apple trying to push hardware upgrades?

If I want conspiracy theories, I can find those elsewhere. Disappointed to see this pablum here.

Perhaps read the article, rather than assuming anything based on the teaser.


It occurs to me that another reason for requiring an M1 may be the use of an extended (not mirrored) desktop.

I’ve noticed that until now, iOS has only supported mirroring. That is, where all screens show the same image - the one on the device’s main panel. This may well be a limit of the A-series SoCs. Their GPUs may be designed for only one screen.

The M1 SoC, on the other hand, is known to have built-in support for at least two displays. (e.g. an M1 laptop supports one external display in addition to the built-in screen and an M1 mini supports two displays) So an M1-based iPad definitely has the hardware needed to support two non-mirrored screens, which is clearly a prerequisite for this particular feature.

Now, could an A-series iPad run Stage Manager without a 2-display GPU (panel-only or with mirroring)? Probably, but this feature seems aimed at those users who are using iPads as a desktop/laptop replacement (I know many such people where I work - mostly managers and directors), and those are the kind of power users who won’t be happy with just mirroring when their iPad is docked.

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Apple indeed built in an option to run it on non-M1 iPads. Not that this accessible to anyone outside of Apple right now. But it does support the claim that it was tested on lesser hardware.

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Quoting Apple’s Craig Federighi, Josh Centers wrote

On an iPad Air 4th gen, running iPadOS 15.4.1 (and I think earlier iPadOS) and iPadOS 15.5, Numbers will sometimes be completely unresponsive for 1 to 4 seconds when I switch to it. I hadn’t thought much about it until I read Josh’s article, accepting it as the performance that the iPad was meant to deliver, but it certainly does not match the standard that Federighi presented. And that’s using an Apple app on a newer iPad.

In short: while Macs can get away with being a little laggy at times, there are no such affordances on the iPad, where the touch interface requires instantaneous response to maintain the illusion that you’re interacting with real objects rather than virtual representations.

I don’t like Apple’s suggestion that laggy behavior on a Mac is somehow OK, but not on iPad. Just because it’s a mouse pointer trying to drag an object instead of a finger, there can’t be any more lag. That Federighi argument is complete nonsense. In my line of work, the iPad is a toy compared to a Mac. If there’s one system where I expect maximum resources deployed and minimal disturbance, it’s the Mac. That’s what gets work done and pays for the bills. I get where Apple is going with this, but their aspirational goals (or at least their messaging on the topic) obviously need to be adjusted.

Is this with Numbers by itself, or with a particularly large sheet open? I don’t really use it on the iPad, but on my older 10.5-inch iPad Pro, I see nothing like this. And more to the point, what Federighi is saying is that it’s the little things that need to be really responsive, not so much the initial launch/switch, when there very well may be some swapping. Milliseconds of lag when you’re actually interacting with onscreen objects is really noticeable, and while it’s probably unavoidable in every situation, it’s entirely reasonable for Apple to want to to minimize it as much as possible with a brand new marquee feature.

I think that was more Josh’s interpretation/extension of what Apple was saying. It’s certainly a nice idea that the Mac has a highly responsive interface, but I think we all know it’s just not always the case. That’s why the M1 Macs were such a revelation—they felt faster in little ways where we’d grown accustomed to a half-beat wait in the past. And similarly, whenever there’s one of these multiple monitor technologies that uses USB or Wi-Fi, it always feels slightly off, because things just don’t work at the speed we expect. It’s fractions of a second, but it’s still painfully obvious.

So it makes sense to me that Apple would aspire to avoid releasing a marquee feature that would feel off when used on an older iPad. I’m sure the engineers tested it heavily, but the last thing they want is for it to get a reputation for being slow because reviewers used it on the lowest-end hardware it supported.

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Sure, but now they have what seems like half the social media bubble b*tching and moaning about how their $1500 iPad Pro isn’t supported. I’m not sure one is clearly so much better than the other.

I personally don’t really care about Stage Manager and I don’t care about which iPad supports it or not, but I am surprised how it appears once again Apple seems to have stepped into something blissfully not anticipating how things would play out for them publicly. It does remind me a bit of the CSAM episode. Of course, harsher observers would perhaps point out that this is a long Apple tradition certainly going back to Steve times (they’re holding it wrong). :wink:


“Large” is subjective; the open document does have six tabs and the four largest tabs average about 4500 cells with content and 6000 cells between the upper left cell and the cell in the rightmost column with content and bottom row with content. (The other two tabs are much smaller, and there is no referencing from one tab to another. For that matter, hardly any cell contains a formula; it’s almost all static data.)

I didn’t get the sense that Federighi was limiting his comments to only some aspects of iPad operation. However, your interpretation makes sense, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated.

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Bitchin’ and moanin’ at Apple is pretty much the industry standard:

  • The iMac doesn’t have a floppy disk? Then, it’s not a real computer.
  • Apple is going to have to make a real netbook if they want to stay relevant as a company.
  • The iPad is a failure. The only thing it’s good for is browsing the web on a toilet.
  • The iPhone doesn’t have a physical keyboard! No one is going to want it.
  • There’s no slot for a memory card on the iPhone and you can’t replace the battery: Utter failure!
  • If the iPhone doesn’t run Flash, everyone is going to buy Android because Flash is an important part of the Internet!

If Apple truly wants to force you to buy new hardware, they’d do what Android does: stop supporting systems that are more than a few years old.


That’s beside the point.

It’s not about the complaining, it’s about Apple completely misjudging how the public will perceive their announcements.

Instead of websites and magazines and YouTube talking about this awesome greatest ever new feature for iPad OS that will make the iPad more like a real computer, in reality the world is discussing that almost every iPad owner and their dog will be missing out.

I’m looking forward to it but in the context of better multitasking, overlapping windows, a higher resolution and multiple displays. It’ll help manage that for sure.

I like the idea of docking windows and tapping them back out again. I still miss a system 7 app Sticky Windows which docked open windows and apps to tabs on the edge of the screen.

On my iPad Air 4 I regularly experience 1-4 second lags when I open Settings. The screen will display the Battery panel (which I last used) on the right while General is highlighted in the left pane. All the while, repeated tapping on Apple ID settings (at the top of the left pane) does absolutely nothing for those 1-4 seconds.

This issue has started for me after upgrading to iPadOS 15.5, I do not remember having it before that. I have not noticed any such lag with Numbers (or other apps) but I don’t have any large spreadsheets.

It’s no win all the way down.

If Apple allowed non-M1 iPads to do some of Stage Manager features, but not others, the press would be whining about how Stage Manager isn’t completely supported on older iPads. If they implemented all the features and it was too slow, that would be the story.

The best way to handle this is let the press grumble. In a couple of years when more people have M1 iPads Stage Manager will be the feature that makes the iPad a fully fledged computer that can replace a standard desktop system.


Which is why I originally said

I’m not sure one is clearly so much better than the other.

They’ll see complaints either way. They should not have been surprised by it is my point. Their reaction does not appear to indicate they were aware they were getting into this situation, let alone well prepared. After CSAM, I would have expected better preparedness in terms of messaging.

As an owner of a 256GB 2020 12.9" model, it is a bit annoying TBH. Although, as I’m personally not all that enamoured with iPads as serious work machines for a number of obvious reasons we all know about, I doubt such a feature would somehow make all the difference to me.

So really, outside of the hullabaloo, unless you’re actually strongly thinking the feature will suddenly make your iPad life all that much better, I really doubt there’s much worth getting upset about, as I just don’t think it will. It’s more of Apple’s attempts at a small bandage, rather than a wholesale fix of iPadOS’s fundamental failings.

Overall, I really don’t think Apple has much of a clue on where they’re taking iPadOS, as if they thought they were releasing such a headline feature in a couple of OS’s time, shouldn’t they have added more RAM to the 2020 and possibly the 2018 models, instead of limiting the amounts (especially on the lower storage sizes) for cost cutting measures. That seems like an oversight they simply wouldn’t have made if they knew where they were going with features well ahead of time.

I agree. And I also think that MacBooks and Pros are very successful products that contribute greatly to Apple’s revenue. They wouldn’t have loaded the new stuff with super duper M2 chips and better batteries if this were not the case. This is probably the reason why they were plugging how superior the MacBook Pros will be for producing high end graphics, videos, gaming, etc. But the MBPs aren’t quite as powerful and capable as the Mac Pro. And the price of the new MacBook Pros is not near the price of the Mac Pros. So I suspect Apple will be revealing an M2 or M3 Mac Pro in the not too distant future, with a commensurate price bump. Hasta la vista Intel chips.