Multiple Windows on iPad

In iOS 13 and later, iPad apps can support multiple windows. For example, in an iPad app that enables document creation, people could have multiple document windows open at the same time.

Screenshot of the Home screen on iPad that shows four different Pages windows open.

NOTE To support multiple windows in the Mac version of your iPad app, you must support multiple windows on iPad. For guidance, see Mac Catalyst.

There are several ways people can open a new window. For example:

  • Drag an app's Dock icon to the side of the screen to choose one of its current windows or create a new one
  • Drag an object to the side of the screen and drop it onto the system-provided drop target
  • Touch and hold an app icon on the Home screen or the Dock, tap Show All Windows in the context menu that appears, and tap the Add (+) button
  • Touch and hold an object until it reveals a context menu that includes the option to view the object in a new window

iPad apps typically use two types of windows. A primary window lets people navigate the app's full hierarchy and access all of the app's objects and the actions associated with them. An auxiliary window often supports a modal task or contains a single object and the actions associated with it; in both cases, people tend to close an auxiliary window after they’ve completed their work in it. In Mail, for example, the primary window contains all mailboxes and messages, whereas an auxiliary window displays a single message.

Screenshot showing two Mail app windows on iPad. The window on the left contains the mailbox list and includes an Edit button. The window on the right displays a message and includes a Done button.

Although in most cases you should use a primary window, whether to use an auxiliary window depends largely on the type of content people want to view when they open a new window in your app. Regardless of whether people open a new window by dragging an item to the side of the screen or by choosing an "Open Item in New Window" command, consider the following heuristic.

  • If the item is a folder of content, use a primary window.
  • If the item is an individual document or file, and people are likely to close the new window when they're finished interacting with the item, use an auxiliary window.

Make sure an auxiliary window is useful on its own. Auxiliary windows should give people additional views into your app's content and functionality. Avoid using an auxiliary window merely to provide options or tools that work on content in the primary window.

Use a Done or Close button in an auxiliary window. When a primary window displays a document, the window typically includes a Back button that lets people navigate to a parent view. In contrast, when an auxiliary window displays a document, the Back button should be replaced with a Done or Close button, because people expect to close an auxiliary window when they're finished working in it.

For developer guidance, see App and Scenes.