Apple iPadOS 17 preview: Setting Stage Manager free

Apple released its public beta program for iOS 17, iPad OS 17, macOS 14 Sonoma and watchOS 10 along with the Apple TV and HomePod in the middle of July. The program gives regular users a chance to preview and help test the unfinished software updates expected to arrive for Apple’s hardware lineup later this year. That said, it’s important to keep in mind the software isn’t finished, which means there are bugs and battery life issues. For that reason, it’s a good idea to only install any of the betas if you’re willing to deal with the occasional hiccup or have a secondary device you can use for testing.

At first glance, iPadOS 17 doesn’t look like a massive update for Apple’s tablet. But after using iPadOS 17 on an iPad Pro for the past month or so, I can confidently say that it’s a pretty big update, especially for those who use an iPad for work. What’s is iPadOS 17 like and what can you expect once the software is released later this year? Let’s take a closer look.

The lock screen is getting a major update

When Apple released iOS 16, iPhone owners gained the ability to completely customise the iPhone’s lock screen, which included adding widgets, customising the font and colour of the clock, as well as using new wallpaper styles.

Well, with the release of iPadOS 17, Apple’s tablet gets the same lock screen treatment. Notifications are now shown at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to see the entirety of your iPad’s wallpaper. And, yes, the changes mean you can place widgets on the iPad’s lock screen, making all of your most important information available at a glance.

If you’ve used the iPhone’s wallpaper tool, you’ll feel right at home customising your iPad’s lock screen after updating to the new software. You start the process by long-pressing on the lock screen. You can then customise the current screen, or select a new picture from the wallpaper gallery that consists of your own photos or Apple’s own wallpaper designs, which include a new emoji wallpaper or standard colors.

iPadOS 17's wallpaper picker is very similar to the iPhone's.

There are two locations for widgets on the iPad’s lock screen. The first is just above the clock, providing enough space for a single widget to show easily digestable information, such as the date and day of the week. Then there’s a vertical bar on the left side of the iPad’s screen where you can add as many widgets as you can fit. When you tap inside the placeholder, you’ll see the widget picker displayed, letting you scroll through all of the apps with widgets and the various styles of widgets they offer. Alternatively, you can search for a specific app.

I work on my iPad Pro every single day. I have widgets on my home screen that give me access to various actions in the Shortcuts app, an Apple News headline rundown, and an overview of my day’s schedule and reminders. Usually, my iPad interactions start by unlocking the tablet, then looking at those widgets and deciding what I want to do next.

Since installing iPadOS 17 however, I’ve found myself waking up my iPad by touching the screen or pressing a key on the Magic Keyboard, but not unlocking it. I then quickly scan the widgets for anything that needs immediate attention. There’s more too. Like iOS 17 and macOS 14 Sonoma, widgets in iPadOS 17 are now interactive, meaning you can do things like check the little circle next to a reminder to clear it off your task list, control music playback or toggle a smart light from the Home app, all without launching the respective app. For me, that most often meant checking off tasks as I complete them from the lock screen without having to even view my iPad’s home screen. And it’s awesome.

I think iPad owners will really enjoy the improvements and personalisation options iPadOS 17 brings to the tablet. There are endless possibilities of what you can do with just the wallpaper tool, let alone the addition of widgets and their newfound interactivity.

Stage Manager is actually good now

iPadOS-17 Stage Manager on an external display with webcam

Last year, iPadOS 16 promised a completely new way of multitasking on the iPad. Instead of using apps in split screen and slide over modes, Stage Manager allowed iPad Air and iPad Pro models to display multiple apps in windows, similar to what you’d find on a Mac or Windows computer. It also added true support for external monitors, meaning you no longer only had the option to mirror your iPad’s display on a larger screen. You could, if you wanted, run up to eight apps on your iPad at once. That meant four apps on the iPad’s screen, and four more apps on the external monitor.

However, Apple fell short of delivering on the promise of Stage Manager with iPadOS 16. Window sizing, placement and interactions required a lot of mental energy to manage.

iPadOS 17 brings support for a lot of new multitasking features.

With iPadOS 17 though, it’s clear that Apple took the past year’s worth of feedback from the iPad community. The company didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about Stage Manager improvements when iPadOS 17 was announced, but it should have. The most noticeable change to Stage Manager is that you’re no longer locked to where you can place app windows on your display. Previously, there was an imaginary grid your apps were forced to fall into, which often lead to constantly adjusting window sizes and placement just to get the setup you want. Now, you can place apps pretty much anywhere you want and resizing windows feels more fluid than before.

I no longer get frustrated when using Stage Manager on my M1-powered iPad Pro, be it when connected to an external monitor or directly on the iPad’s screen. I also no longer feel like I’m fighting Stage Manager to get it to do what I want. It feels very close to what it’s like to manage windows on a Mac. As I sit here trying to describe what it’s like to use the new Stage Manager, I’m starting to realise maybe Apple didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about the improvements because of how difficult it is to put it into words. You really do have to use Stage Manger to get a proper feel for just how much it’s been improved. What if you never tried Stage Manager before? Well, you’re in for a treat when you do.

The iPad Pro supports webcams now

iPadOS 17 recognizes webcams now.

As the march towards making the iPad more like a computer continues to push forward, Apple has added what I consider a pretty significant feature to the iPad: the ability to use an external webcam. The wording Apple uses when talking about the feature isn’t very clear and definitely leads you to believe that you can only use the new capability and an external monitor (like Apple’s Studio Display) that has a webcam built-in, but I can confirm that all you need is some sort of USB hub and you’ll be able to use a webcam, no extra software required.

I’m able to use a Logitech C920 webcam with my iPad Pro by connecting to it via a USB-C hub or USB-A to USB-C adapter. But if you had a digital camera that can be used as a webcam, odds are the iPad will recognise it and use it as one.

Right now, webcam feeds are only available in FaceTime, but apps like Zoom or WebEx can add support by updating for iPadOS 17.

What’s more, support for external hardware isn’t limited to webcams. External microphones are now officially supported, as are video capture cards that allow you to do things like connect your Nintendo Switch to your iPad and use it as an external monitor.

The expansion of external hardware support for the iPad feels like it’s low-key the biggest change coming to the iPad.

There’s a lot left to explore

Widgets on the iPad's Lock Screen in iPadOS 17.

iPadOS 17, of course, includes a lot of the same features that the iPhone and Mac are getting with their forthcoming updates. FaceTime reactions is sure to be a popular feature, allowing you to use gestures like giving a thumbs-up to trigger an animation of floating thumbs on your screen (there are gestures for all sorts of reactions and emotions, including making a heart shape with your hands for floating hearts).

Autocorrect is getting a big update with the ability to predict not only the current word you’re typing, but even finish the rest of your sentence.

Support for filling out PDFs in apps like Mail or Files is coming, as is importing PDFs into the Notes app.

And for the first time, the Health app will be available on the iPad, making it possible to view all of the same Health information you have stored on your iPhone.

Is iPadOS 17 a major update?


I guess that depends on how you use your iPad. The lock screen improvements are nice, but if you routinely skip right past the lock screen when unlocking the tablet, you’re not going to find much value in the new addition.

If you have an iPad that’s compatible with Stage Manager, then you’ll find that iPadOS 17 is a huge update that makes using the iPad for extreme multitasking a reality. And hardware support for webcams and the like is just icing on the cake.

Interactive widgets are surely going to be one of the major features once developers are able to widely release updates; being able to skip opening an app and take action directly from whenever you’re viewing the widget is a boost to usability.

You can install the public beta right now, but I’d urge you to wait until closer to its official launch later this year.

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