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iPadOS 16.1 Stage Manager multitasking basics: How to use the new iPad feature

Stage Manager is far from perfect, but it doesn't hurt to learn the ropes.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer on

When Apple previewed iPadOS 16 in June at WWDC, the company's annual developer conference, there was a lot of hope that the iPad would soon gain a powerful new multitasking feature in the form of Stage Manager, which makes it possible to use four different apps, with windows of different sizes, on the same screen at the same time. 

During the beta program it was clear that Stage Manager was far from finished. In fact, Apple had to remove external monitor support from iPadOS 16 in order to get Stage Manager to a point where it could launch. 

Well, with the release of iPadOS 16.1, Stage Manager is here. And while it's not perfect, it does change the way you can work on the iPad

Instead of opining about where and how Apple should change Stage Manager, I'm going to focus this article on how to use the basics of Stage Manager. Who knows, you may end up liking some aspects of this optional feature and wanting to integrate them into your daily workflow. 

But, before you can even start using Stage Manager, there's something you should know: It's not available on all iPads. In fact, it's only available on the iPad Air (5th generation), all 11-inch iPad Pro models, and the 2018 or newer 12.9-inch iPad Pro models. 

If you have one of those iPads and you've updated it to iPadOS 16.1, then here's what you need to know about using Stage Manager.

iPad icons with an arrow indicating the Stage Manager icon
Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Stage Manager is an optional feature. Here's how to turn it on

You don't ever have to use Stage Manager. In fact, you can act like it doesn't even exist. But if you want to turn Stage Manager on, you can do so by swiping down from the top-right corner of your screen to access Control Center. There you'll find a new Stage Manager icon to tap on.

Alternatively, you can turn Stage Manager on or off by opening the Settings app and going to Home Screen & Multitasking > Stage Manager and sliding the switch next to Use Stage Manager on iPad to the On position. 

The Settings app gives you the option to turn off the side bar or dock when using Stage Manager. That just means that you can either have either of those elements automatically hidden when you're using Stage Manager, regardless of how big a window or app is. You can always swipe in from the left edge of the screen to view the sidebar, or swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see your dock. 

You can also control whether either element is visible in the Control Center panel by long-pressing on the Stage Manager icon. 

An app window with an arrow outward from a corner indicating size adjustment
Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

How to move and adjust windows

With Stage Manager turned on, any app you open will now be shown as a window. A resizable window, just as you'd see on a Mac or PC. 

There are a couple of different ways you can adjust the size of the window, based on whether you're using the tablet with or without a trackpad or mouse. 

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If you're using touch to interact with the iPad's screen, then the easiest way to change the size of an app is to look in either bottom corner of the window for a small handle icon. Touch and hold the icon, then drag the corner of the window around to adjust its size. 

You'll notice as you drag the window's corner around that you can't freely resize it, but instead there are certain sizes that the window snaps to, ranging from a single iPhone app-like column to a taking up the entire screen, just like a typical iPad app. If you want to quickly make an app take up the full screen, drag the handle to the bottom corner of the iPad. 

A resized app in Stage Manager
Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

If you're using a mouse or trackpad to control the iPad, then you can use the mouse pointer on any edge of the window to resize it. 

If you want to relocate a window on your screen, you'll need to touch and hold on the top of the window or click and drag using a trackpad. If you can't get the hang of it right away, just pretend like that's a very small bar across the very top of the window that you need to hold to drag it. It's an invisible bar, but it's there. 

Multiple apps in adjacent windows
Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

How to add multiple apps to the same 'stage'

Stage Manager is made up of different stages, for lack of a better term, where you can have up to four active apps at the same time. 

The easiest way to add apps to the same stage is to drag-and-drop the app icons from the app library, a Spotlight search, or the app dock into an active stage. 

As you drop an app onto the stage, the windows will move around and realign to ensure that at least a portion of every open app is visible. The goal here is to not hide a window, as you can do on MacOS. 

On the left side of the screen is where you can view recent apps you've used. Tap or click on an app to quickly switch to it. You can drag an app from the sidebar to the stage you're currently using to add it, or if you hold the Shift key on your keyboard and click on the app's thumbnail it'll automatically be added to your current stage. Note: You can't use the Shift-Click option anywhere else in Stage Manager to add apps. It has to be done from the side strip. 

Dropdown showing multitasking button
Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Use the multitasking menu for more window controls

At the top of every window or app is a three-dot button. That's called the multitasking button and it's where you'll find actions you can take in a given app. 

The main options are:

  • Fullscreen puts the current window into full-screen mode while still leaving Stage Manager active. You can't revert the app back to its previous size by selecting Fullscreen again -- you'll need to adjust the window size (as we previously covered) in order to leave full-screen mode.
  • Add Another Window pulls up the traditional iPad multitasking view where you can select apps to add to your current stage.
  • Minimize will minimize but not close that app.
  • Close will close the app completely.

External monitor support is coming

If you have an iPad model that uses Apple's M1 processor or newer, then your iPad will gain the added feature of external monitor support with Stage Manager with the release of iPadOS 16.2, currently in beta. The update will allow you to connect your iPad to an external display and have up to eight apps active at the same time, with four on each display. 

But, for now, you'll have to sign up for the public beta program if that's a feature you want to test.

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