iOS 9 could be a step toward saving the tablet market

Split-screen multitasking on the iPad is a long-overdue improvement to tablet functionality—but much more is needed.

iOS 9 new features Apple iPad multitasking

Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage at last year's WWDC.

Credit: REUTERS /Robert Galbraith

Earlier this week, I laid out some ideas on what Apple needs to do inject new life into the fading tablet category. It seems that Apple was already on track with at least part of my message. "For many, the iPad is the primary computer," Apple's senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi noted at Apple's World Wide Developers Conference keynote yesterday.

See also: 5 ways Apple should re-invent the iPad

To help out those people, who I think represent the future of the tablet market, the company delivered on a couple of the things I asked for. As many observers expected, Apple announced split screen and picture-in-picture functionality in iOS 9, as well as a new software keyboard that can also work a trackpad. (Personally, the improvements in text selection and movement could be the biggest benefit to using the iPad for real work—I've always found that process frustratingly awkward and inexact.)

060915 ipad multitasking ios 9 Apple

But is it enough?

Those are important steps, but they won't be nearly enough to make a difference if Apple stops re-inventing the iPad there. After all, this kind of multitasking is already available on competing tablets like the Microsoft Surface and Samsung Galaxy Tab. And while those may be fine machines, they clearly haven't succeeded in recharging the tablet market.

It's also worth noting that this new functionality comes in multiple flavors. The fanciest version, called Split View (which shows two apps on the screen at the same time), works only on the very latest iPad Air 2, while the slide-over version (which makes it easier to move between open apps) works on a wider variety of devices. Picture-in-picture lets you keep watching videos in a small window on the screen even as you use a different app. All that could be confusing enough to blunt the impact of the new features.

Similarly, the new keyboard functionality is a definite improvement (and even includes shortcuts for those using external keyboards) but still a long way from delivering a true laptop experience.

What's next for tablets?

The Apple rumor mill is already predicting that the new features in iOS 9 make a larger iPad much more likely, and I certainly hope that's true. I believe that the iPad is the most useful tablet on the market, and Apple's iOS 9 upgrades will make it even better.

But the entire tablet market needs to invest in much more radical new ideas in order to recapture the excitement it seems to have lost. Let's hope that Apple has more up its sleeves, and that other tablet makers continue to push the envelope.

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