Stage Manager looks great on the iPad, but it’s a very expensive upgrade

It was a close-run thing in our poll, between iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and the MacBook Air. For me, iPadOS was the most exciting announcement, and Stage Manager the standout feature.

But there’s a huge caveat in the small print for Stage Manager, which poses a big dilemma for me …

Stage Manager is the feature I was waiting for

I’ve been calling for proper iPad multitasking for years now, with true windowed apps my number-one feature request.

From yesterday’s demo, it looks like Stage Manager at least gets close enough to meeting that brief.

Stage Manager is an entirely new multitasking experience that automatically organizes apps and windows, making it quick and easy to switch between tasks. For the first time on iPad, users can create overlapping windows of different sizes in a single view, drag and drop windows from the side, or open apps from the Dock to create groups of apps for faster, more flexible multitasking.

The window of the app users are working on is displayed prominently in the center, and other open apps and windows are arranged on the left-hand side in order of recency

The sidebar of apps seemed a huge waste of space on the small screen of an iPad, but developer James Thomson showed that both this and the dock can be disabled.

But my iPad isn’t compatible

While my 2018 12.9-inch iPad is compatible with iPadOS 16, the Stage Manager feature requires an M1 iPad.

Available on iPad Pro and iPad Air with the M1 chip

(It did briefly occur to me that this ambiguous wording could be parsed as “Available on [iPad Pro] and [iPad Air with the M1 chip],” but no, it is limited to M1 iPad Pro models too.)

Apparently, the official reason for this is that the M1 has faster access to storage and that M1 iPads – like M1/M2 Macs – use RAM and SSD storage interchangeably when needed. But given that macOS runs just fine on an A12Z chip, I’m sure that my A12X Bionic-powered iPad could cope with Stage Manager. I strongly suspect this is just Apple wanting to sell more iPads.

So while the upgrade to iPadOS 16 is free, if I want the headline feature, I need to shell out for a new iPad.

The upgrade cost is really steep

The difference between US pricing – which excludes sales tax – and UK pricing, which includes it, always causes confusion, making UK prices seem much higher than they are. So to avoid this, I’ll do the sums as if I were in the US – and take the best case of no sales tax.

eBay completed sales tell me that my unlocked 2018 12.9-inch 256GB Wifi + Cellular iPad is worth somewhere around $550, of which eBay would take about $50, so let’s call it $500 in round numbers.

An identically specced M1-powered iPad would cost $1,399, or $1,400 in round numbers. That’s an upgrade cost of $900. Ouch!

My iPad/Mac mix has changed

Once upon a time, I had a 17-inch MacBook Pro, and a 9.7-inch iPad. Those were two very different beasts when it came to mobile use! If I was working in a coffee shop, or on a plane, there was a strong incentive to use my iPad where practical.

These days, there’s still a portability difference between my M1 Pro Max 16-inch MacBook Pro and my 12.9-inch iPad Pro, of course, but it’s less dramatic. In round numbers, my Mac measures 14×10 inches, and weighs 5 pounds; my iPad + Magic keyboard measures 11×9 inches and weighs 3 pounds (1.5 for the iPad, 1.6 for the keyboard).

The iPad combo is more portable for sure, but the difference is way smaller than it used to be, so therefore I’ll tend to do most of my mobile work on my Mac.

Which means Stage Manager is even harder to justify

Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve been calling for this feature for years, and I really, really want it. If my iPad were compatible, I’d be delighted to have it.

But, in truth, it is definitely a want rather than a need. If I look at my usage:

Use ↓ | Lease Home Mobile
Entertainment All the time Sometimes
Work Never Seldom

So I’d be paying $900 for that “Rarely” box.

Did I mention that I really, really want it? My general attitude to gadgets is “If it will bring me pleasure, and I can afford it, then why not?” But even I struggle with this equation.

One more thing…

More… I’m on record as saying I’d welcome an even larger iPad, and about a third of you agreed. Now that we finally have a UI that could take full advantage of a larger screen, I wouldn’t mind betting that Apple is seriously considering making one.

So I’m going to be doing my very best to avoid the Stage Manager allure, and hold out for a later upgrade to a larger iPad.

That’s my plan – what about yours? Please share your own thoughts in the comments.

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