First Impressions of Stage Manager on an Ultrawide display

I upgraded my to iOS 16.2 today, and the first thing I did this morning was to try it out with my to finally see if it worked.

The Good News

It worked. For the first time in years, I can take an iPad to my office, plug it into the same monitor I use with any of my computers and trust it will be usable for actual work (within reason–more on that later).

And, as icing on the cake, it was able to use the entirety of my ultrawide display, at what looked like retina resolution1. And it was simply glorious:

Pretty roomy, and almost feels like a real computer

I managed to spend an hour or so with it before work, and it was a lot of fun, but with some caveats.

The Bad News

It’s buggier than a bait store. At noontime, in Summer.

Moving things between displays and adding windows to groups was very tricky with the mouse (much trickier than on a touchscreen), and putting together the applications you need to accomplish a given task feels like a chore–you need to fiddle with grouping and positioning for a good while, and it is generally a worse experience than a normal desktop GUI.

Once it works, it kind of works because you can, in fact, switch contexts, but it is not as clean as virtual desktops on a Mac, Windows or Linux desktop, where you can easily segregate sets of windows into a separate desktop, arrange them at will, and trust they will stay put–as in not go away, not budge and, above all, without any limits on numbers and kinds of windows.

Stage Manager breaks all of those assumptions, which are things you take for granted from even mobile pseudo-desktops like Samsung DEX–so the principle of least surprise becomes a rather leaky abstraction here…

Also, the way it handles apps leaves a bit to be desired. Apps apparently receive resize and drag events very frequently, and some quite obviously break even if you’re not moving them explicitly.

, in particular, acted as if it was being restarted between commands, and got very confused when running multiple windows–something that worked fine for me until today.

Furthermore, there still seem to be hardware support teething issues.

Even though the iPad was charging from my monitor and I was typing on a Bluetooth keyboard, the internal screen went dim as if the iPad went idle, and sure enough, the external display was shut off a while later.

The external display was also mysteriously shut off with an “unplugging” audio bloop again a while later–but the internal display was on, so I assume these are two different bugs.

The Awkward Parts

Frustratingly, the Thunderbolt cable I’m using on my desk has a plug that is just big enough to not fit through the Logitech cover, so I had to remove the iPad from it (I just ordered a new cable, with a 90 degree angle to boot).

But you can’t start Stage Manager on an external display without a mouse and keyboard attached, which is weird.

Understandable (in Apple’s usual rationale for setting guardrails for novice users), but quite annoying given I had just removed my keyboard/trackpad cover, so I had to pair a set of Bluetooth ones.

Also, stage Manager apparently doesn’t have any concept of relative display positions (I tried to find settings for it, but they are non-existent), so even though I had my iPad next to my monitor, I had to keep moving the mouse up/down to switch displays.

And strangely, there does not seem to be any attempt at matching scaling and relative UI element sizes between screens, which has always been there for me on the Mac. I’d love to have more control over Dock size and base font size, but, again, we don’t have any settings to tweak…

Update: As it turns out, yes, those are there in Display & Brightness, but I managed to overlook them because I was expecting something more discoverable: You get an Arrangement option under the list of displays (which I probably missed due to Settings being hard to scroll that far down with a mouse), and inside each display you get individual Display Zoom options (and, I just noticed, HDR support for my LG).

But all in all, I’m strangely happy this is finally possible. Like I wrote two months ago, I’ve been waiting for this for twelve years, and am quite giddy it’s finally real, even if it’s clearly a 1.0 feature.

So thanks, Apple.

Second Update, Jan 2023:

Over the Christmas holidays I ordered a 2m Thunderbolt cable (the ones I had were too short, so I could only really do proper testing with a 4K LG Ultrafine) and I’ve had a bit more of a play with this.

The upshot is that I confirmed that on my the display zoom options don’t appear for some reason – that was likely why I missed them (they do appear when I use a 4K LG Ultrafine, so this has to be a bug).

Also, there is no way to manage multiple audio interfaces: I have a Yamaha audio interface plugged into the display’s USB hub so I can use my R0DE XLR microphone, but I cannot choose to use that for input and use my monitor speakers for audio out, which is… well, another bug.

I filed “FB11917009 (No display or text scaling options on LG 5K HDR display and no ability to choose audio output)”, so maybe, just maybe, this gets fixed sometime.

  1. The monitor doesn’t report resolution in the OSD, but the screenshots I took are 5120x2160, so the iPad does seem to support the full hardware resolution of my monitor. ↩︎

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