First Impressions: Stage Manager on the iPad and Mac

Originally published at: First Impressions: Stage Manager on the iPad and Mac - TidBITS

Apple has turbocharged iPad multitasking in the upcoming iPadOS 16 with Stage Manager, a new feature that introduces Mac-style windowing. It also provides external display support that does more than mirror the iPad screen. A version of Stage Manager is coming in macOS 13 Ventura, as well. Julio Ojeda-Zapata tried Stage Manager on both platforms.

Finally—and I realize this is wild speculation, not least because of Stage Manager’s M1 requirement—imagine a future where Stage Manager also runs on the iPhone, when connected to an external display. Using my iPhone as both a phone and as a desktop computer is among my most fevered Apple fantasies. When arriving somewhere with a large desktop display, keyboard, and trackpad at my disposal, I’d plug in my USB-C–equipped iPhone and get the full Stage Manager experience, similar to what occurs with Samsung Dex.

I really like that idea. Especially if Apple returned something like Back to my Mac to iCloud. Imagine if you could just hook up your iPhone (or iPad) to a large screen & KB (that’s what USB-C is for after all) and then do VNC to your Mac far away. All of this without having to fuss about IPs or port forwarding or any of that. All hidden behind iCloud magic, all well secured, and authentication taking place automatically and behind the scenes by virtue of your Apple ID and FaceID on your iDevice.

Nice article, BTW. I don’t imagine I’ll be a heavy Stage Manager user on macOS, but I’ll definitely give it a spin. Although I use virtual desktops on my Linux systems, on the Mac I’ve never really made use of Spaces. Instead, I’m a heavy user of Exposé (Mission Control these days?) when I’m mousing around as well as cmd-tab when I’ve got my hands on the KB. I got the very nice Witch to extend cmd-tab to opt-tab so I can also switch between individual app windows. I’ve set up my Exposé key (F3) to also accept ctrl-F3 for just showing all windows within a certain app.

Window management on macOS—at least to me (and I admit I’m usually quite obsessive about keeping things tidy)—seems pretty solid these days (of course it would be awesome if I could get Finder to remember its default new window settings, but that horse has thoroughly been beaten to a pulp already). :wink:

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There is the Screens app. I use that to get Back to my Mac on the iPad. Even better, you have the option of using your iPhone as a trackpad. It’s not a built in Apple app, but it’s still nice to use. I don’t know how well it supports Stage Manager.

Indeed, but the app itself is usually not the problem. For most people the tricky bits will be about what IP does my home Mac have right now and have the proper ports been forwarded on my router. In the old days Back to my Mac took care all that behind the scenes, such that really the only thing you needed to do would be to get your VNC client of choice up and running.

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I tend to be minimalist in my iPad use, so I wonder whether Stage Manager is more multitasking power than I need. I never use Slide Over windows, and I’m a light Split View user at most, so I can’t imagine when I would want four sets of four-window app groups visibly available on my cramped iPad screen.

I use my iPad as my main device about half of my time. I even work with the iPad on my dining room table even though my office with my Mac with a $1200 standing desk and dual monitors is right next door.

I use the side-by-side and Quick Notes quite a bit. To me, this makes the iPad extremely usable as a main device. There’s little I can’t do on the iPad that I can do on my Mac. The biggest issue is Squarespace which insists I use the iPad app even in places where the app itself is lacking (like creating new blog posts or event with more than just text and images).

Unfortunately, I bought a new iPad Air just before the M1 version was introduced, so Stage Manger won’t work for me. However, I can’t see much use on an iPad by itself. The screen size already limits you to pretty much two apps. Side by side and quick notes are all I need.

Floating/overlapping windows is so 1980s. They’re really a pain and many people prefer their windows to tile like on the Mac where you can have one or two full screen apps at once. I can’t see Stage Manager really helping me out there. It doesn’t offer much besides the a hassle of constantly rejiggering my windows.

However, the multiple screen option is a big old honking game changer. Imagine working on a bigger project and having six windows open at once. That almost makes a Mac obsolete. There’s almost no excuse why you can’t use an iPad to do your work.

A lot of MacOS strikes me as obsolete:

  • The fact that operating system files show up on the Finder doesn’t make sense for the average user. It’s simply confusing. Apps are hard to locate and install for easy use. The Files App on the iPad lists just user files. With a bit more power, (like an easier way to choose which app opens a file, a way to display and change file suffixes, locking files to prevent changing, better sharing options, etc.) the Files App would be the way to browse files.
  • The Apps folder doesn’t really cut it and LaunchPad is hard to configure. The iPad Springboard is easier for most users.
  • The Desktop has turned useless. It’s either overloaded with crap or completely clean. In 1984, it was a great way to organize and display files and apps. It didn’t scale well. It would be nice to be able to select a folder to be a desktop folder. I work on a particular project and switch the desktop to that folder. But, I’m not sure if that adds a lot of functionality.

I’ve been using the Mac since 1984 and stuck with it during the dark 1990s when most sensible people abandoned it for the more powerful and modern Windows XP. (Yes, it was an extremely dark time for MacOS when Windows XP was the better OS).

However, a lot of early decisions on what a desktop OS should look like seem to hinder its development and make it difficult to use. iPadOS is a faint vision of a possible OS future. It gets more and more useable each year, but it seems to be in a Zeno’s Paradox: Every year iPadOS gets halfway there.

Stage Manager on a second monitor adds to the iPad usefulness. I’d like to see iPads apps switch to Mac UX when a keyboard and pointing device are added. At that point, iPadOS isn’t a touch based OS. It’s a desktop OS. Whatever people think of menus, they make it easy to find and add functionality. I don’t like using Pages on an iPad because I can’t find things like adding comments, etc. It’s hidden deep within the single dot dot dot menu or in the pop up selection list that, unlike a real popup context menu, shows the options side-by-side and you have to keep pressing the right arrow to find what your looking for. If I have a keyboard and track pad, show the selection box as a drop down context menu.

(And for the iPhone, it’s time to add another row of buttons for numbers. We’re not on a 3½” screen anymore. There’s room.)

Every year, I find myself using my iPad more and more. The M2 MacBook Air is a tempting replacement for my aged Intel MacBook Pro, but I really use my iPad a lot more. As a replacement, I may even buy a new IPad Air or IPad Pro even though mine is less than a year old because of Stage Manager and the ability to use a second monitor. And I’ll get on Squarespace’ s back about it’s forced limit on using its web app on an iPad. This isn’t 2007 any more.

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I use my iPad Pro in portrait mode, and currently Stage Manager is refusing to show the recent apps on the left. (I haven’t tried the zoom feature yet.)

Filed a bug.

Screens Connect may handle that for you (setting up forwarding can be tricky) depending on your router. Of course, if you stick to IPv6, no port forwarding is necessary.

Have you found a way to control the size of the Recents images on the left? Mine are showing rather large and taking up a lot of the left side of the screen.

I have been using more than one desktops (spaces, actually 8) on the Mac for may years, so I don’t quite see the benefits of the future Stage Manager on the Mac. It is easy to switch between them using command shortcuts or via the trackpad on a Macbook. I barely use Apple mouses because of tactile problems. So I use different brands of mouses WITH ADDITIONAL BUTTONS wich allow me to switch between the spaces quickly and without having to point to some control button as shown in the video.

Regarding “imagine a future where Stage Manager also runs on the iPhone, when connected to an external display. Using my iPhone as both a phone and as a desktop computer is among my most fevered Apple fantasies. When arriving somewhere with a large desktop display, keyboard, and trackpad at my disposal, I’d plug in my USB-C–equipped iPhone and get the full Stage Manager experience”…

This reminds me of the fantasy I had for a Mac Micro…way back in 2007. If you’re curious, you can check it out in this TMO column: For Your Consideration: The Mac Micro – The Mac Observer

Maybe the time for fantasy to become reality is approaching!

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When I saw Stage Manager introduced at the WWDC keynote, I thought, “huh?” However, thanks to @julio 's article, I’m now starting to think this may replace Spaces for me on my Mac. I currently use four Spaces: one for my Bible study software, one for Photos (in both cases, I like to have no other app windows vying for my attention), one for Xcode/Simulator/Feedback/SF Symbols, and one for everything else. I use the common accessibility shortcut ctrl-1, etc., to switch between them, but now I’m thinking I could have them all in the one Space, separated into different app groups. Am I thinking about this correctly? I’m also wondering how window management utilities (I use Display Maid) will deal with SM? Finally, I use my MBP in clamshell mode with two 27" monitors 95% of the time, but what will the experience be like the other 5% when I’m traveling with just the laptop screen?

Have you checked the toggle for hiding and showing the Recent Apps launcher?

After playing with Stage Manager a bunch more, I am becoming convinced I’ll almost never use it on the iPad and almost always use it on the Mac.

On the iPad, Stage Manager doesn’t solve any major problems for me that I can’t deal with in other ways. It just introduces complexity I mostly don’t want on such a small screen. As I noted in the article, I’m minimalist in my iPad use.

On my Mac workstation with a big LG display, though, Stage Manager doesn’t get in my way as much, and is helpful in fine-tuning app-usage annoyances I’ve dealt with for years.

A couple of examples:

  1. I get my RSS feeds on Reeder on the Mac, but use my default external browser (Chrome) when I want to open full articles. I’m really liking how Stage Manager whooshes Reeder away when I want to focus on that Chrome window, and returns it with a click (at which time Chrome removes itself from my sight and mind until the next time I want to open an article).

  2. In Chrome, I have some of my favorite sites set up as shortcuts, which basically makes each of these mini-apps in their own right, with simplified appearances (browser controls are hidden) and their own icons in the Dock. When I want to open one of these, Chrome’s main window annoyingly appears first (which doesn’t happen in Windows and ChromeOS) and clutters up my screen. Stage Manager fixes this problem because it zooms the main Chrome window away moments after it opens so I can focus on my mini-app. When I have a bunch of the shortcuts open, each has a spot in the Recent Apps launcher, each with a distinct icon, and I can go from one to another easily.

Very nice.

Yes, that works in landscape but not portrait. Does Recents show up for you (or anyone else) in portrait orientation? I’ve never seen a screen shot in anything but landscape mode.

A bunch of small windows showed on the left side of the Mac screen after I installed the public beta of Ventura. I found them to be an annoyance, but didn’t know how they got there, how to turn them off or what they were for. So I had no choice but to leave them alone. As I got used to them, I started to realize Stage Manager is without a doubt one of the best and most useful features Apple has added to the OS. Now I’m loving it.


OK, I have finally seen someone in portrait orientation, but recent apps aren’t showing (which in many use cases would presumably be super useful).