The concept of multiple-app multitasking is something that’s very much stuck in people’s minds as the ‘proper’ way to do computing. It never used to be like this. A computer would run an app. If you were fortunate to have relatively powerful hardware, you could switch between several apps. But computers became increasingly powerful, the interfaces became more complex, and displays got bigger. Now, you can pepper your screen with tiny windows from a dozen apps, flicking your eyes between them.
People argue this is great, because it enables you to be productive, but it also reduces your focus. And focus is one of the things I really liked on first getting an iPad. The device became whatever app was running. And when I started using the iPad for creative tasks, I wasn’t repeatedly distracted by something wanting my attention. (This has been eroded somewhat by notification systems, but they can easily be silenced.)
Apple has subsequently brought this system ‘back to the Mac’, with its full-screen mode, but only now has the idea of using apps side-by-side headed in the other direction. With iOS 9’s Slide Over feature, a temporary overlay can be dragged in and then dismissed, enabling you to quickly get back to your original app. Split View gives you a full two-up view, which is far more flexible than how iPads were yet still retains a sense of focus, for example enabling you to simultaneously view a writing app and reference material, but not 50 other apps as well.
Slide Over’s more of an oddball. It’s designed for temporary access to something, without entirely removing attention and focus from the original app you were using. But it’s the interface that troubles me. Drag in from the right and the Slide Over column appears. Compatible apps appear to be listed randomly. There’s no search. You therefore have to scroll through the list to find whatever you want, in a manner alien to almost everything else Apple offers.
On launching an app, everything works fine (well, mostly), and when you bring back Slide Over again, the app will be ready and waiting. Close the app by dragging downwards and you’re back into randomsville, with the exception of apps you’ve previously used, which are listed from the bottom of the column upwards, in order of previous use.
I imagine Apple’s thinking is Slide Over should only be used with a very small number of apps, and the previous three are visible when you view their icons in the scrolly column. That’ll be enough for some people, but not anyone who uses a wider range of products. Even now, I have 32 compatible apps in the list. What happens when many dozens of apps are compatible? First-use of Slide Over will be atrocious. Finding anything will be a massive pain. Here’s hoping iOS 9.1 or a subsequent update brings some kind of search or filtering for Slide Over, otherwise it’ll never reach its full potential, and forever be merely a feature stymied by your inability to perform a basic search.