Apple tries its best to explain Stage Manager limitation to M1 iPad models

Apple announced some major changes coming to iPadOS 16, with a particular emphasis on multitasking upgrades powered by the new Stage Manager feature. To the dismay of some iPad users, however, these new multitasking tasking features are exclusive to the newest M1 iPad Pro and iPad Air.

Why is that the case? Apple has attempted to give us an explanation of sorts…

The two major upgrades to multitasking with iPadOS 16 are Stage Manager and better support for external displays. Here’s a recap of what exactly Stage Manager allows for on the iPad Air and iPad Pro:

  • Resizable windows: Resize your windows to make them the perfect size for your task;
  • Center app: Focus on the app you’re working with without going full screen;
  • Fast access to windows and apps: The windows of the apps you’re working in are displayed prominently in the center, and other apps are arranged on the left side in order of recent use;
  • Overlapping windows: Create overlapping windows of different sizes in a single view, giving you the control to arrange your ideal workspace;
  • Group apps together: Drag and drop windows from the side or open apps from the Dock to create app sets that you can always get back to.

iPadOS 16 external display support brings support for connecting to displays up to 6K in resolution with a full desktop-optimized interface, again relying on Stage Manager.

External display support and Stage Manager, however, are both limited to the newest iPad Air and iPad Pro with an M1 chip inside. All previous-generation iPad Air and iPad Pro models are excluded from using these features.

When asked for an explanation for this limitation, Apple explained to DigitalTrends that it comes down to the new memory swap feature in iPadOS 16. As Apple announced at WWDC, the memory swap in iPadOS 16 allows iPadOS to use your iPad’s onboard storage to expand the amount of RAM available to the system.

DigitalTrends explained:

We reached out to Apple to ask why Stage Manager is limited to the M1-powered iPads, and we got a reasonable answer. According to the company, Stage Manager is limited to M1 chips mainly due to iPadOS 16’s new fast memory swap feature, which Stage Manager uses extensively. This lets apps convert storage into RAM (effectively), and each app can ask for up to 16GB of memory. Since Stage Manager enables you to have up to eight apps going at once – and because each app could ask for 16GB of memory – it demands a batch of resources. As such, the new window management feature needs M1 for smooth performance.

9to5Mac’s Take

Apple’s explanation here doesn’t seem to address the elephant in the room. According to the company’s website, memory swap is available on:

  • iPad Air (4th generation) with a minimum of 256GB storage
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation)

I have a base model M1 iPad Air with 64GB of storage, and even though it apparently doesn’t support memory swap, I can still use the Stage Manager and external display features.

The iPad Air 4 with 256GB supports memory swap and can’t use Stage Manager or the external display features.

The difference is clearly the RAM amounts, with the M1 iPad Air 5 and iPad Pro offering 8GB of RAM (up to 16GB in higher-storage tiers), compared to the 4GB of RAM In the iPad Air 4. To me, it seems like if the iPad Air 4 can tap into memory swap, it could take advantage of Stage Manager.

Because iPadOS 16 is still in developer beta, all of this could change before a release to the public in the fall. In the meantime, it’s a confusing situation, particularly if the iPad Air 5 doesn’t support memory swap as Apple’s website says today.

We’ve reached out to Apple for additional confirmation of this.

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