App Development

WWDC 2016: iPad as a Creative Peripheral via Universal Clipboard

Since Apple debuted iPad in 2010, our cranky tech community has argued over Apple’s claim that it’s a great device for creative work. Are we there yet?

The story so far

Year by year, Apple has peeled away limitations of creative work on iPad.

To address the early lack of creative apps, Apple built iPad versions of Keynote, Numbers, Pages, GarageBand, iPhoto, and iMovie. Using iCloud document storage in each app, and later using iCloud Drive for shared storage, many apps could interoperate with their equivalents from OS X (now “macOS”).

iPad was also limited by its lone input method, touch. Several versions of iPad keyboards, and more recently, key shortcut improvements, removed the sluggishness of entering text. Apple Pencil, with its finer touch tracking and palm rejection, added precise pointer input, drawing, and handwriting.

To address the need for apps to work side-by-side, iPad first gained four-finger gestures to switch apps, and later gained split view multitasking.

Although these technologies all made their mark on iPad, it’s been hard to argue that one tablet is all you need for creative work. But I think we have had our sights on the wrong goal. iPad doesn’t have to be the only device you use for creative work. It just has to be available when it’s the best tool for the task.

Universal Clipboard

In today’s WWDC keynote Apple announced a feature in the next versions of iOS and macOS called Universal Clipboard: Copy on one device, paste on another. It’s just like the way you move data between two apps, except the apps are on different devices.

So to move data between devices, you don’t have to email it. You don’t have to be using an app that saves its data as documents in iCloud. You don’t have to resolve syncing conflicts. You don’t have to send the entire document, only a selection. And that means you don’t have to do your work on just one device at a time.

One workspace

Universal Clipboard removes one of the greatest barriers to creative work on iOS, which was that the entire creative process had to be handled by one device (or else you paid some usability penalty). Now, since you can simply pick some data and send it between devices, multiple devices become one creative workspace.

And here is the big surprise: That limitation also applied to macOS. If you do creative work on your Mac, it’s now trivial to use an iPad as a peripheral, for exactly the parts of your work where it excels.

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