Windows in windows

Part of me really hopes that Apple end up shamelessly stealing the idea of what to do next with the tablet form factor from Microsoft rather than Samsung. Now we’re in the process of the transition to iPadOS, it’d be good to see the new branch of the iOS project explore something that’s not tied to a phone’s form factor.1

What’s mind-boggling is that Neo isn’t even a new idea — Microsoft first conceived of a dual-screen, foldable tablet all the way back in 2009 with the “Courier” project, which was a failed attempt to bring similar ideas to life. The Courier is legendary in the technology industry as a dream of how computing could look in the future, but most of us assumed the ideas had died when the project did.

Like many Microsoft projects, the company was simply dreaming too early. […]

Barring the industry waiting a few years to see whether Samsung et al can refine their folding-screen technology into something much more durable (and ideally much cheaper, so that the more-screen-space models don’t just become the premium option for the few who can afford them), it looks to me as if in the medium term Microsoft’s coordinating-two-screens-by-using-clever-software-rather-than-insisting-on-a-seamless-single-screen approach might well be the better way to go. As devices come with more real estate everyone’s going to have to figure out how to use that space best, beyond using it to display films and other visually-pleasing content in full-window apps.

Even on my current hardware2 I’ve appreciated the ability to use Slide Over and Split View and to drag-and-drop content from one app to another.3 Nevertheless, that can’t possibly be the end of the story. I have a sneaky feeling4 that one day the iOS family will sprout an always-on-display task switching/launching app much more flexible than what we currently put up with. Maybe that’s what my second screen is destined to be filled with. Only time (and a period when the different platforms are feeling free to experiment with the form factor and what that frees up) will tell.

  1. It’s worth noting at this point that Microsoft’s announcement is of a concept they plan to turn into hardware a year from now, so there’s tons of room for what appears for the end of 2020 to be a huge disappointment.
  2. An iPad Mini 4 that I suspect is about to see its last major iOS upgrade once I move over to iPadOS 13.
  3. Yes, it’s a relatively small screen, but I carry it in a bag more or less wherever I go: the trade-off for greater-than-phone screen space and a decent amount of processing power it makes available to me is comfortably worth the need to have my bag to hand. I did ponder for a few minutes the other day whether there was some sort of sling/pouch I could attach my iPad Mini to to free up both hands and keep it handy, but I’m not quite at the ‘look at my sexy tricorder’ stage yet. Not quite.
  4. If only James Thomson’s recent announcement had been not of the death of DragThing but rather an announcement of an iPadOS port of DragThing. Now that would have been something I’d have very happily happily paid for all over again. I do miss the days of using MacOS X and having LaunchBar and DragThing and Hazel and AppleScript available. What couldn’t I do with that toolkit to hand?

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