Stage Manager compatibility without precedent

I’ve been thinking about why Apple’s decision to restrict Stage Manager on iPad to M1-based devices has caused so much controversy. At first, I was slightly annoyed that my brand new iPad Mini did not support Stage Manager. It is the latest, fastest iPad Mini you can buy, released less than a year ago!

You could argue that the iPad Mini is too small to take full advantage of Stage Manager anyway, but that wasn’t Apple’s justification. A future iPad Mini will surely be powered by an M1 and have more RAM.

I think the root issue is that when people choose a computer to buy, they don’t expect the operating system to change significantly for different computer models. You buy a more expensive Mac because it has a larger screen, or is faster, or has more ports. You buy a more expensive iPhone because it has better cameras. You buy a more expensive iPad because it has the latest Pencil support. It is a hardware decision, not a software one.

If you walk into an Apple Store today and pick out any Mac, from a $1000 MacBook Air to a $6000 Mac Pro, you can be confident that every feature of macOS will be available, and that all Mac apps will run, even if pro-level apps are going to run more smoothly on the Mac Pro.

I can’t think of anything comparable to such a major feature as Stage Manager being limited by hardware across a current, latest-generation product line. Maybe the closest is when Portrait Mode was first available. Portrait Mode is nice to have, but it doesn’t fundamentally change how you interact with apps in the way that Stage Manager does.

So I’ve adjusted my thinking on this controversy from shrug, that’s a minor bummer to now thinking that Apple’s decision should be walked back. John Gruber too, while he wrote that he understands Apple’s thinking on this, suggested that there could be a compromise in future betas:

Given the uproar surrounding this M1 requirement for Stage Manager, I wonder if Apple will reconsider over the summer, and perhaps do something like support Stage Manager on more iPads, but only on the built-in display, and make external display support the part that requires an M1 iPad.

Users on non-M1 hardware will understand if Stage Manager is slower or more limited — for example, no external display support or fewer windows open at once — and those limitations will naturally drive iPad upgrades. But it’s a unique and confusing precedent to have fundamental iPadOS features limited by hardware.

Manton Reece @manton