Stage-managed Severance

By now, many people have already written about Stage Manager, which is the new window-management tool that Apple introduced in iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura (13.0). If you aren’t familiar with the feature, it is intended to provide a new way of navigating between active app windows and focusing on your task at hand, with your main window(s) in the middle and a shelf of other running apps to the left-hand side of your display.

Rather than go on forever about how Stage Manager works, which bugs or issues remain or whether it should have been developed in the first place, I want to communicate briefly how it makes me feel when I use it on my Mac mini and my iPad Pro respectively.

I’ve been using the Mac since I was five years old, and it’s fair to say that the accepted system of overlapping windows is laser-etched into my brain. Each day, I use a mixture Command + Tab, Mission Control, Exposé, SwitchGlass by John Siracusa and clicking on app icons in the Dock to navigate between my apps, depending on what I’m doing or how I’ve spaced things on my display. Magnet is also a great app for tiling windows and I occasionally use Final Cut Pro in full-screen mode. I like the fact that the Mac facilitates so many options for window management and navigation.

Stage Manager, however, poses somewhat of a challenge to my ingrained habits. Rather than being a transition or pathway between apps like the features that I mentioned above, it is an entirely new interface where one remains while working. The feature is toggled to stay on the screen, changing the behaviour of app arrangement and switching. Stage Manager presents a different way of using the same device. It’s not that I don’t like the feature—I will continue to try using it—but I wasn’t instantly sold on it like I thought that I would be, after watching Apple’s initial event demos.

Now we come to Stage Manager on iPadOS, which for me is a totally different story. The exact same feature, presentation-wise, feels completely different to me on my iPad Pro. It is still a mode to be toggled on and off, but rather than reimagining an existing window-management interface, it is offering something that never used to exist on the system, which has long been restricted to full-screen apps or arrangement in Split View and Slide Over. The ability to turn my iPad Pro into a faux Mac, with a persistent Dock and the constant visibility of my other running apps, feels like an absolute gift. When paired with the new ‘More Space’ option in display settings, Stage Manager makes it feel like I have even more breathing room for my writing and other work.

So why have I been hesitant in using Stage Manager on the Mac and so excited in my initial use on the iPad? The thought occurred to me that I am experiencing a bizarre case of severance, to cite the Apple TV+ show that depicts a dystopian future where people’s personal and working lives are separated through a chip implant, activating each part of a person as they enter different physical spaces.

I am Martin and I am an Apple user—yet, I use myriad Apple devices in different contexts, with various ingrained habits and levels of comfort, depending on the devices that I use, their history and their context. On the one hand, there’s the older, comfortable Mac that reaches back into my childhood. That is one half of me, which wishes that things would largely remain the same. On the other hand, there is the half of me that uses the iPad: a younger system that has seen more tumultuous experimentation and challenging of Apple’s own user interface guidelines. This half of my brain is more willing to accept difference and newness. Stage Manager, the exact same feature on two different devices, triggers entirely different responses in my own brain, based on my acceptance of each app environment.

This is the first time that I’ve felt like an old(er) person when using my Mac. You can tell yourself that you’re open to new ideas and technologies, but it’s not until you’ve been presented with a new way of doing something that you realise how much of an automaton you can be in your daily life. It also reveals how appropriate the ‘personal’ in ‘personal computer’ really is: these are machines, but like any artwork, medium, food or place, they are interpreted and used through the lens of our own subjectivity, and we’re not even consistent with our preferences. Depending on the context, each one of us can be multiple people with conflicting ideals and tastes.

This post was originally written in October 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.

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