Well, last year it was foreign.
For the first time since I started writing annual reviews of Apple’s two mobile operating systems – iOS and iPadOS – I published a review without the iPad portion. Or rather: me had to release it a month later, considering the mess Apple got into with Stage Manager for iPadOS 16 and its half-baked, embarrassing debut.
I don’t want to go into the details of that whole story again and how we ended up with a shipping version of Stage Manager for iPadOS 16 that didn’t meet my expectations. Spoiler alert: As we’ll see later in this review, Apple has listened to feedback and fixed Stage Manager’s most glaring issues in iPadOS 17, striking the balance between “guided multitasking” and free window placement that was missing from the debut last year. Stage Manager for iPadOS 16 will remain yet another turning point in the iPad’s long and storied history with ill-fated multitasking features. There’s no need to talk about it again.
However, I want to explain why the last twelve months have been different than normal in iOS and iPadOS land, apart from the fact that I was unable to work on my iPad Pro for the first half of 2023.
After launching iOS 16 with its Lock Screen widgets and after Apple completed work on the last major item on the iOS 16 roadmap (Live Activities for the Lock Screen and Dynamic Island, which launched in late October), I felt it was as if the entire Apple community started thinking about just one product for the next six months: the headset. What would later become known as the Vision Pro and visionOS platform the topic of conversation in Apple-related publications, podcasts and YouTube channels. Leading up to WWDC 2023, the anticipation surrounding the upcoming headset overshadowed anything related to other platforms.
Rightly so. As I explained in the story I wrote after I was able to try out a Vision Pro at Apple Park, the excitement was justified. It is rare for Apple to introduce a new hardware product with an associated software platform; but to do so with a mind-blowing experience like nothing I’ve ever attempted before in my life is truly something special. Apple had been working on visionOS and Vision Pro for years, and we were all thinking about it and waiting for it at WWDC. And the company delivered.
This context is necessary as the visionOS/Vision Pro development timeline explains what’s going on this year with iOS and iPadOS 17. Both operating systems are grab-bag style updates with a collection of welcome improvements across several experience areas. I joked years ago that modern iOS updates should have a little bit of everything for everyone; that’s never been more true than with iOS 17, albeit this time for a different reason: most likely because Apple didn’t have time to also make big, visionupgrades on iPhone this year.
iOS and iPadOS play a somewhat secondary role in 2023, happily highlighting a new software platform that has not yet been launched, but that developers around the world are already personally testing.
To be clear, I’m not complaining. iOS and iPadOS 17 may not have an industry-defining, obvious tentpole feature, but in their approach to offering various improvements, they’re fun and interesting to discuss. Of the two, iPadOS has suffered the most from a lack of development resources and whose strategy can easily be summarized as “it’s iPadOS 16, but we fixed Stage Manager”. Which, considering the circumstances, is absolutely fine with me.
While Apple was busy with visionOS this summer, I enjoyed exploring iOS 17’s collection of app updates and, as we’ll see in this review, extensive upgrades to one system feature: widgets.
Like every year: let’s dive in.
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