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Apple iOS 10 preview: “Biggest update ever”? I don’t think so

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Apple says there are more than one billion iOS devices actually in use globally. That’s about the same as all the Windows PCs in use, and it means an update to iOS is a major event. Even the little things are significant, because they affect a billion people, so it makes sense to go with what works. The tried and tested. Why not let some other hapless mobile operating system developer take the biggest risks first?

With this in mind, iOS 10 is not a revolutionary change. Not for the first time, I found myself reading through the list of changes and new features and thinking: “Do you know what? I’ve seen this somewhere before.” But is this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think it is. In fact, I’m all for it, especially as Apple usually puts its own special spin on things.

So how about iOS 10? Well, there are plenty of things in this latest release to get stuck into, chew over and ruminate on the significance of. Most of them can be dropped in the “mmm, that’s nice” bucket rather than the “wow that’s going to change my life” one, but is it a dud or a work of genius? Well, it’s impossible to deliver a final verdict on that because iOS 10 is still a developer release. There are features that are in need of polish, and some, I’m sure that will change prior to final release in the Autumn.

I can’t say this enough: While reading this, bear in mind that this is an early look at a developer release. Developer releases are buggy, of course, and often have features which, while complete enough for developers to start building on, aren’t polished in the way an end-user would expect. In particular, interface changes often get tweaked between developer release, public beta and final product. I’ve tried not to focus too much on things which are likely to be subject to major changes, but the core features are all in place now, so I installed the developer release on an iPhone 6s and an iPad Pro to get a flavour of how it’s panning out so far.

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iOS 10: What it means for iPad users

The one thing the iPad desperately needed from iOS 10 was a big improvement in its split-screen, multitasking view. This should not be rocket science. After all, if Windows 10 can do it, why not the most-used mobile operating system on earth?

Developers need to build in support for the feature explicitly, resulting in some apps that work perfectly and others that don’t work at all (Hello, Google Docs!). There’s nothing that Apple can do about sluggish developers, but it is in control of how usable the feature is – and I’m sorry to report that, at least so far, iOS 10 doesn’t really improve it yet. You still have to scroll through lists of icons to find the app you want to open in split-screen view – when it may not be on that list at all – which beyond irritating. Even a simple search box could fix this. Apple, please don’t make us wait for this till iOS 11.

What we do get, though, are split-screen Safari windows and side-docking Reply windows in Mail. Both of these features are useful in their own way and already work well.

Mail’s side-docking reply windows are beautifully elegant. Simply drag the message window over to the right-hand side using the title bar, whereupon the message list and preview panes shrink and dock to the left.

Likewise, Safari’s split-screen mode is simple and works nicely. Hold your finger down on a link and you get the option to open in a separate window to the side, so you can view two web pages at the same time. You can drag tabs between them, if you wish, and it all works nicely.

But do we really need more different ways to do the same thing, especially when they’re only available in Apple’s own apps? Surely it would be far better to build a standard API for putting two windows from the same app side by side, rather than having these features “Apple only”. Perhaps this will make an appearance in iOS 11, but in the meantime, I think the company has missed a trick.

Of course, not everyone cares as much about multitasking as I do. In fact, those who don’t own and use an iPad Pro every day will probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Still, aside from the addition of a homescreen shortcut in the keyboard shortcut app switcher, there’s little here that specifically caters for iPad users, which is a disappointment. Like it or not, the iPad is now beginning to do well in business, and that makes it important it gets more features which can take advantage of that big, lovely screen.

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