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iPad icon spacing option is a huge missed opportunity

Apple released the fifth developer beta of iPadOS 13 yesterday, and it included a Home screen improvement: an option for adjusting iPad icon spacing.

In iPadOS 13, you can now adjust the Home screen icon density. This means you can choose between a 4 × 5 grid of apps, or a 6 × 5 grid of apps.

Any improvement here is welcome, of course, but even a 6 × 5 icon grid is a tremendous waste of space on a 12.9-inch iPad. Offering an option to change it, but doing so in the most limited way imaginable, is a huge missed opportunity…


Last year made the case for what I then called padOS, and called for three changes: [19659002] While the iPad Pro is not trying to be a Mac, it is a grown-up device and it needs a grown-up operating system. Not macOS, but rather a tailored version of iOS, designed to take advantage of the additional capabilities of the iPad. What some people have termed padOS.

I mean, just look at that Home screen, above. How Ridiculous Does That App Spacing Look on a Screen the Same Size as a MacBook Air?

I would think it would require a massive overhaul to make an iPad-worthy version of iOS. Here's what I consider the minimum acceptable spec for padOS – if you gave me these things, I'd be pretty happy:

  • A home screen with a fully-flexible layout
  • Properly windowed apps
  • Support for a trackpad

Apple is taking a course finally giving the iPad a dedicated version of iOS this year, including some of what I wanted.

We have a (somewhat clunky) way to use a mouse with an iPad . We have properly windowed apps, but Apple did give us a whole bunch of improvements in this area. We can now have multiple windows from the same app open in Split View mode, and make new three-finger gestures for copy / cut / paste to make it easier to work between windows. Check out our video guide for the full set of multi-tasking improvements introduced in padOS.

We also got two Home screen improvements. First, we can have denser icons (though only slightly so). Second, we can have our widgets be a permanent part of the Home screen. Combine these two, and we get a lot more sensible use of space.

To me, one of the biggest differences between Mac and iPad UI is the flexibility you get in macOS. In terms of the desktop, I can have my icons wherever I want them, at whatever density I choose. I can have the windows folder be any size and in any position.

Compared to this, the iPad – even with iPadOS – still feels a little toy-like in comparison. The actual apps are very powerful, but the operating system still feels constrained.

I know Apple doesn't want the two platforms to converge too much, and I absolutely agree with that: they are different tools designed for different roles. The simplicity of the UI makes it very appealing to many who are way off by the relative complexity of a conventional computer. And even for techies, part of what makes an iPad good for recreational use is that it feels like a work device.

But if you are going to offer people a choice of iPad icon spacing at all, why limit it in this way? Why not offer a full range of densities, up to and including a Mac-like one?

That would do no harm to anyone. It will make an iPad more complex for ordinary users, as they will never go near the option. But it would greatly improve the experience for power users, who would be able to have more of their frequently used apps on the home screen, and fewer screens overall.

What is your view? Would more choice be better, or is it a choice between 4 × 5 and 6 × 5 enough? Please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.


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