A Guide to Multitasking in iPadOS

Last modified
Friday, January 22, 2021
Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team


As part of their continuing efforts to make iPad a device which customers can use for real work, Apple has this year created iPadOS, a distinct, though still closely related, operating system cousin of iOS.

iPadOS does everything iOS does on the iPhone and iPod Touch, and more. One of the key distinguishing features, which Apple has made further improvements too, is multitasking.

There are two main flavours to multitasking on iPad, floating windows over the main app, called "slide over", and split screen, called "pinned apps". In this guide, we will go through what these are and how they work with VoiceOver.

Slide Over

Slide over is employed when you have one app already open in full screen, and want to dip into another app to check some information or carry out an action for example, such as sending a message, without closing the current app you're using.

It is essentially a floating window, approximately one third the width of the screen, which gives you something very like an iPhone app experience. While the slide over app must be one which is compatible with multitasking, the full screen app below it can be any app at all. By default, it will open on the right side of the screen.

If you go back to your home screen, the slide over app is lost. In other words, it is not maintained alongside the full screen app in the app switcher.

Pinned Apps

Pinned apps, which you may also hear referred to as split screen or split view, are a little different. Like slide over apps, a pinned app will by default open to a size of approximately one third of the screen, with your original full screen app shifting across to take up the remaining two thirds. However, in the case of pinned apps, you can resize this to a 50/50 split if you wish.

Also unlike slide over apps, when you create a pair of apps on screen with pinned apps, the pair is maintained in the app switcher, so you can return to it later. You can also have two instances of the same app side-by-side, and have multiple instances of an app across multiple windows. Therefore, with pinned apps, both apps must be capable of supporting multitasking.

Opening A Second App

Whether you want to use slide over or pinned apps, the first step is to open an app as normal in full screen. Let's open Safari for example.

The next step is to open the dock. If you're tempted to double-tap your home button, don't. There is a gesture to open the dock. Slide your finger up from the bottom of the screen until you hear the second blip. This is where you would lift your finger if you wanted to return to the home screen. Instead of lifting your finger, slide your finger back down to the bottom in a fluid motion. You should hear what I will describe as a zip sound and VoiceOver focus should land on an app somewhere in the dock. If you're familiar with the gesture to invoke reachability on iPhone models which lack a home button, it is essentially the same gesture.

From there, we find the app in the dock which we want to add to the screen, and use the Actions menu in the rotor, swiping up or down, to cycle through the options. Our options are, Open Context Menu, Open Slide Over, Pin App to the Right, and Pin App to the Left. If you cycle through the options on an app which does not allow multitasking, these options will simply be absent.

Alternatively, we can use drag and drop to achieve this. To do so, open the dock as above, then explore and place your finger on the second app you want to open. Double-tap and hold, then in a fluid motion, drag it up and across to the left or the right. As you do so, you will hear VoiceOver say "Float App" and "Place App". Lift your finger to open the app in slide over or pinned mode respectively.

There is one other method specifically for opening two instances of the same app in a split view. Open the Notes app for example and place your finger on a note on the left of the screen. Double-tap and hold, then drag your finger across to the right. You will then hear those same options, "Float App" and "Place App". Lift your finger to create a second instance of the app in either slide over or pinned mode. Note that you can still also create two instances of the same app using the other methods outlined.

Slide Over Actions

So let's open the Files app in slide over mode for this example. We simply navigate to Files in the dock, swipe up through the available actions, and double-tap on the option to open slide over. You will again hear a confirmation sound, plus VoiceOver will announce "Safari behind, Files floating." What we find is that Safari remains on screen, taking up the majority of the screen, while Files is floating on the right, taking up about one third of the width. Now work away in the app as you wish.

Once we have the two apps on screen, there are various actions we can take. This is done using a screen element called the "app controller". As I have Safari and Files on screen now, my two app controllers are called Safari Controller and Files Controller. These can be found by exploring the screen just below the status bar, with each controller located just above its corresponding app.

If we find the Files controller in this example, remembering it is our slide over app, we will again find that it acts as an Actions menu using the VoiceOver rotor. The options we cycle through here are:

  • Open App Switcher: This allows us to change the app in our slide over window to another app, more on that later.
  • Dismiss Files: This removes the slide over window entirely from the screen.
  • Pin Files to Screen: This converts the slide over app into a pinned app.
  • Move Files to Left: This maintains Files as a slide over app, but places it on the left instead of the right of the screen.

The Slide Over App Switcher

The first thing to know is that the slide over app switcher is completely separate to the regular app switcher. Using it, you can only switch to other apps which you have already opened in slide over mode. So to try it out, let's repeat the earlier steps using the dock, and open another app such as Notes to replace Files in slide over. Then open Mail in slide over, replacing Notes. In this case, we now have Safari as our main app, with Mail in the slide over window. However, we also have Files and Notes available in the slide over app switcher.

Now find the Mail Controller, swipe up or down to cycle through the options, and select Open App Switcher. The app switcher will open, allowing us to choose from Mail, Notes and Files. Whichever of these we select will then take that space in the slide over window, all the while leaving our main Safari app unaffected.

We can also easily switch between our two most recent apps in the slide over window. Find that app controller again, but this time, instead of swiping up or down through the options, swipe right with three fingers. This gesture will alternate between the two most recent slide over apps. Again, VoiceOver will confirm the change.

Remember, if we go back to our home screen, our slide over window is automatically dismissed. However, if we switch to another main app, using the regular app switcher, our slide over window will remain in place, floating over that app instead.

Pinned App Actions

Now we'll dismiss our slide over window and go back to Safari in full screen. Returning to the dock, we will this time open the Files app in split screen mode, by selecting Pin Files to the Right from the Actions menu. VoiceOver says "Safari on left, Files on right". By default, Safari, as the first app we opened, will take up approximately two thirds of the screen, with Files taking one third.

Again, we have an app controller for both apps on screen. If we find the Files Controller, and swipe up, we find just one option: Unpin Files: This converts the pinned app into a slide over app.

If we find the Safari controller, we get the exact same option to unpin Files. This is because Safari, currently being the larger app, can not be unpinned.

Next up, we want to find an element called the "Split View Divider". This, as it sounds, is essentially a vertical bar which separates the two apps. It can be a little tricky to locate, so try both exploring the screen and swiping left or right and figure out what works for you. Here again, we have some options to cycle through in the Actions menu:

  • Expand Safari: This will dismiss Files and return Safari to full screen.
  • Expand Files: This will dismiss Safari and make Files full screen.
  • Shrink Safari: This will reverse the size ratio of the two apps, taking Safari to about one third, and Files to about two thirds.
  • Resize to Half the Screen: This changes the size ratio to 50/50.

If we return to the home screen now, and then open the app switcher, we will find that our split screen view has been maintained as a single window, which we can return to at any time.

Exposé and Multiple Instances

For this example, follow the above steps to create a number of split screen views, all containing Safari as at least one of the apps.

Now return to the home screen, locate Safari in the dock, and use the Actions menu, this time selecting the "Show Context Menu" option. Next, select "Show All Windows" from the list in the pop up menu.

This displays a version of the app switcher, but only showing any windows which include an instance of Safari. Want to open another full screen Safari window, simply swipe all the way to the left and select "New Window".


That's pretty much it for multitasking on iPad. If you need or want to use your iPad for more than just consuming media, then you may well find that this makes you a lot more productive. While some of the elements can be a little tricky to locate, on the whole Apple has done a pretty solid job at making this accessible.


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Submitted by Shersey on Sunday, September 22, 2019

Lol now I almost want to go buy an iPad for note-taking in class. :) If I didn't have to use my computer for one of my classes, Microsoft Word, on Windows, I'd seriously consider converting from laptop to iPad--or at least taking more of a look at doing so.


Submitted by Marco on Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Thank you for this great guide! There is an interesting problem if you have two windows of the same app open in split screen view. If you have them share the screen 50:50, the splitter actions are quite confusing, since you don‘t know which of the two sides you are going to expand or shrink, or dismiss. But like in iOS 11, the new multitasking is otherwise very accessible.

Submitted by Yvonnezed on Wednesday, November 20, 2019

If you've mastered dragging and dropping apps into multitasking from the dock, there are a couple of other places this works.

If you get a notification from an app, you can drag and drop it right or left the same way you would from the dock. Obviously, in this case you drag it down and left or down and right. The app the notification is from will open.

You can also do this from spotlight. Either use an external keyboard, or assign spotlight to a gesture of some sort, and from any app you can search for another app in spotlight and drag and drop it the same way.

Incidentally, Sighted users can't do this *without* an external keyboard, since they don't have our ability to remap gestures, ☺️