Apple have released iOS 9.3 which has as part of its Education feature package the ability to allow multiple users to use the same iPad.
This is a feature that the iPad is sorely missing because of a common reality that I have noticed with this tablet where many household members are using the same device. It happens more so with the 10” standard iPad rather than the iPad Mini which is used more as a “personal” device. For example, I have seen one iPad being passed around four different household members in our household for email, video-content viewing, gaming as in Plants vs Zombies, and information lookup. Another iPad that I have seen in action is one that became the common Internet (or should I say at times Facebook) terminal in a “family house“. Similarly, businesses have used the iPad as a mobile computing device ranging from a communal image-viewing device through a POS terminal to a kiosk device.
It is in contrast to Steve Jobs vision for this device where he sees it as a personal companion device i.e. as a large-screen companion to the iPhone that each of us use. This is why Apple refused to integrate multiple-user support in to the iPad variants of the iOS platform. It is in contrast to how Google integrated multi-user functionality in to Android Honeycomb to benefit tablet users and Microsoft carried through the multi-user abilities of the Windows regular-computer operating system to tablets that ran that operating system.
iPad users had to be very scrupulous that they log out of email, Facebook and similar services if the tablet was being used as a communal device and they wanted to keep their data private and unadulterated. There wasn’t the ability to have a distinct operating environment for individual users like a different wallpaper or exclusive access to personal email and other accounts. Businesses would even have to run extra third-party apps to achieve a multi-user login setup which became very important through the lifespan of the tablet.
But Apple woke up by offering multi-user abilities for iOS 9.3, but only as part of an “Education” feature set which is an extension of Apple’s strong efforts for courting the education market since the Apple II era. This was because schools, especially primary schools (elementary schools in North America), would buy fewer iPads and pass them around a class, yet they want to be able to track progress through various courseware apps that are written for this platform.
When iOS users and the computer press heard about this, they thought that Apple would answer these needs “across the board” but at the moment, it is only being targeted to the education market. There is a hope being expressed that when Apple issues a subsequent major iOS update like iOS 10, they will provide proper multi-user support for this platform. But it may require a rewrite of the iOS operating system in order to make sure that the extra functionality doesn’t weigh the iPad’s performance down.
Some users may find that the login user interface may not cater to the multiple-user scenario but it may have to be about supporting a user list similar to the way Windows works and supporting different user PINs and fingerprints as login credentials. Similarly, Apple may have to realise that there can be multiple Apple IDs associated with the one iPad and factor that in with account management / password vault features and iTunes purchases. This could lead to the ability to provide Windows-8-style cross-device portability where apps, settings and libraries can be carried across multiple devices.
What may have to be looked at is to integrate a full multi-user ability in to the iOS distribution packaged for the iPads, perhaps implementing some of the techniques used in Windows or Android.