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iOS 9 Multitasking Tutorial

Discover how to get your apps in shape to take advantage of iOS 9’s advanced multitasking functionality with this iOS 9 multitasking tutorial.


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Note from Ray: This is an abridged version of a chapter from iOS 9 by Tutorials, to give you a sneak peek of what’s inside the book, released as part of the iOS 9 Feast. We hope you enjoy!

Note: Updated for Xcode 7.3, iOS 9.3, and Swift 2.2 on 04-04-2016

iOS 9 introduces a phenomenal feature for the iPad — multitasking. For the first time, iPad users can run two apps on the screen at the same time.

Maybe you want to read a proposal in your email app while you research the topic in Safari. Or you’d like to keep an eye on Twitter while you enjoy your favorite sports show. For a device that you can hold in one hand, this is a crazy amount of productivity power. It’s undoubtedly going to change the way users interact with their iPads.

In this iOS 9 multitasking tutorial, you’ll learn how to update an existing app so that it plays nicely in a multi-tasking iPad environment.

Getting started

In this tutorial, you’ll work on an app called Travelog. It’s a simple app that you use to keep a diary of a business trip or a vacation. Start by downloading the starter project for this tutorial and run it on the iPad Air 2 Simulator. The app is already seeded with some entries:


The app uses UISplitViewController to display entries on the left side. Tap any entry to display it in the right-hand view; rotate the device and you’ll find both master and detail views of the Split View Controller are visible in both orientations.

It’s time to see how the app behaves in a multitasking environment. Swipe from the right edge of the screen to expose the list of multitasking-ready apps on your iPad. This can be tricky in the simulator; try starting with your mouse pointer just inside the simulator window to simulate a swipe in from the edge.

Tap on any app to launch it. A small version of the app opens in the previous position of the list. At this point you’re in Slide Over multitasking mode. Note that Travelog is dimmed out but otherwise unaffected. The app running in Slide Over mode sits on top of Travelog, and a short handle bar sits at top of the Slide Over. Swipe down on the handle to expose the list of multitasking apps and launch a different app in the Slide Over.

You’ll notice a handle at the edge of the Slide Over view. Tap it, and you’ll see the following:


W00t! The screen just divided in two! Isn’t that neat?! This is Split View multitasking mode. Travelog is now available for use and resized itself to fit the new, narrower portion of the window.

Note: If an app isn’t multitasking ready, it won’t appear in the list. Even more reason to get your app ready for multitasking as soon as possible! :]

The primary app is the original running app, while the secondary app is the newly opened app. If you drag the divider further out, the screen will split 50:50 between the apps. Drag it all the way to the other side and you’re back to single app mode. The primary app is backgrounded at this point.

Now that you have an idea of the multitasking modes on iPad, it’s time to take a closer look and improve your app to better support multitasking.

Preparing your app for multitasking

Here’s the good news: if you paid attention at WWDC 2014 and built a universal app with size classes, adaptive layout and a launch storyboard or XIB, you’re done! Rebuild your app with the iOS 9 SDK, go grab yourself a beverage and I’ll see you next year!

What’s that? You live in the real world and don’t quite have all the above implemented in your app? Okay then; this tutorial will walk you through what it takes to make your app multitasking-ready.

Any new project created in Xcode 7 is automatically multitasking-ready. An existing app you convert to Xcode 7 automatically becomes multitasking-ready if your app:

  • Is a universal app
  • Is compiled with SDK 9.x
  • Supports all orientations
  • Uses a launch storyboard

Since all the required criteria are in place, Travelog automatically becomes multitasking ready. That’s great news, but just because it’s multitasking ready doesn’t mean that everything will work as expected. The remainder of this tutorial will help you work through common pitfalls encountered when converting existing apps to multitasking apps.

Orientation and size changes

Run Travelog in Split View mode and rotate the iPad to portrait orientation; you’ll see the app layout changes:


While this layout is functional, it can certainly stand to be improved. There’s whitespace wasted on the left hand side and all the labels are squashed over to the right hand side.

Now rotate the device to landscape orientation:


Again, it’s functional, but the master view column is too narrow and the text inside the table view cells doesn’t really provide any value.

The app already performs some layout updates on orientation change; that seems like the best place to start.

Open SplitViewController.swift; this is a subclass of UISplitViewController and overrides viewDidLayoutSubviews() so it can update the maximum width of primary column via helper method updateMaximumPrimaryColumnWidth(). The implementation of updateMaximumPrimaryColumnWidth() checks the status bar orientation to determine what the maximum width should be. This approach won’t work any longer, since the app can still have a narrow window in split view mode when it’s in landscape orientation.

UIKit provides a number of anchor points where you can hook in and update your layout:

  1. willTransitionToTraitCollection(_:, withTransitionCoordinator:)
  2. viewWillTransitionToSize(_:, withTransitionCoordinator:)
  3. traitCollectionDidChange(_:):

Not all multitasking or orientation changes trigger a size class change, so you can’t simply rely on size class changes to provide the best user experience.

It looks like viewWillTransitionToSize(_:, withTransitionCoordinator:) is a good candidate for an update. Remove viewDidLayoutSubviews() and updateMaximumPrimaryColumnWidth() from SplitViewController.swift and add the following:

func updateMaximumPrimaryColumnWidthBasedOnSize(size: CGSize) {
  if size.width < UIScreen.mainScreen().bounds.width
    || size.width < size.height {
      maximumPrimaryColumnWidth = 170.0
  } else {
    maximumPrimaryColumnWidth = UISplitViewControllerAutomaticDimension

This helper method updates the split view's maximum primary column width; it returns the smaller version when the split view is narrower than the screen, such as in a multitasking situation, or when the split view itself has a portrait orientation.

You'll need to call this helper method when the view is first loaded, so add the following:

override func viewDidLoad() {

This ensures that the split view starts in the right configuration.

Add one final method:

override func viewWillTransitionToSize(size: CGSize,
  withTransitionCoordinator coordinator:
  UIViewControllerTransitionCoordinator) {
      withTransitionCoordinator: coordinator)

This method updates the primary column when the size changes.

Build and run your app; first verify for all orientations that the app still looks and behaves as it did before multitasking. Then bring in another app in Split View and try some different orientations:


Hmm — it's certainly not fixed. It even looks more broken now: with multitasking enabled in landscape orientation, the master column view has been jacked up! It looks like the table view cell doesn't adapt to size changes appropriately.

Open LogCell.swift and find the implementation of layoutSubviews(); you'll see the code checks for UIScreen.mainScreen().bounds.width to determine whether it should use the compact view or regular view.

UIScreen always represents the entire screen, regardless of the multitasking state. However, you can't rely on screen sizes alone anymore. Update the implementation of layoutSubviews() as follows:

override func layoutSubviews() {
  let isTooNarrow = bounds.width <= LogCell.widthThreshold
  // some code ...

Also update widthThreshold, declared at the beginning of LogCell, as follows:

static let widthThreshold: CGFloat = 180.0

The updated code checks the width of the cell itself instead of the width of the screen. This decouples the view's behavior from that of its superview. Adaptivity is now self-contained! :]

Build and run; again, verify the app still looks and behaves as it did before multitasking. This time around, Split View mode should play nicely in all orientations:


Adaptive presentation

Let's try another scenario: this time with the device in landscape orientation and the Split View at 33%, tap the Photo Library bar button. You'll see the following popover:


With the popover still visible, drag the divider further to the left so the screen is evenly divided between the two apps:


The popover automatically turned into a modal view without any action on your part; dragging the divider to 50% changes the horizontal size class of the app from regular to compact. That's neat, but it's not quite the functionality you're looking for.

Instead, you only want to present the Photo Library in a modal fashion when the app is in Slide Over mode, or when it's the secondary (smaller) app in the 33% Split View mode. When your app is full screen or has 50% width, you'd prefer to present the Photo Library in a popover.

iOS 8 introduced UIPopoverPresentationController to manage the display of the content in a popover; you use it along with the UIModalPresentationPopover presentation style to present popovers. However, you can intercept the presentation and customize it with UIPopoverPresentationControllerDelegate callbacks.

Open LogsViewController.swift and add the following class extension to the end of the file:

extension LogsViewController : UIPopoverPresentationControllerDelegate {

  func adaptivePresentationStyleForPresentationController(controller:
    traitCollection: UITraitCollection) -> UIModalPresentationStyle {
      guard traitCollection.userInterfaceIdiom == .Pad else {
        return .FullScreen

      if splitViewController?.view.bounds.width > 320 {
        return .None
      } else {
        return .FullScreen

Here's a breakdown of the code:

  1. Check that the app is running on an iPad; the photo picker should always be presented modally on the iPhone.
  2. Check that the split view controller is larger than 320 points — the size of the Slide Over / 33% view. If so, return .None to retain the popover, otherwise return .FullScreen for a modal presentation instead.

Now you can make LogsViewController a delegate of the popover presentation controller.

Find the implementation of presentImagePickerControllerWithSourceType(_:). Read through the implementation and you'll see that when the source type is .PhotoLibrary, UIImagePickerController presents as a popover. Update the implementation by adding presenter?.delegate = self as shown below:

func presentImagePickerControllerWithSourceType(sourceType:
  UIImagePickerControllerSourceType) {
    // some code...
    if sourceType == UIImagePickerControllerSourceType.PhotoLibrary {
      // some code...
      presenter?.delegate = self
    // some code...

Build and run your app; verify that the popover transitions to a modal fullscreen view only when your app is in the Slide Over mode or when the Split View pane is sufficiently narrow.


Design Considerations

Beyond coding considerations, you'll need to change your approach to app visual design a little differently:

  • Be flexible: Step away from a pixel-perfect design for various platforms and orientations. You need to think about different sizes and how you can have a flexible app that responds appropriately to size changes.
  • Use Auto Layout: Remove hardcoded sizes or custom code that resizes elements. It's time to consider Auto Layout and make your code more flexible and future-proof.
  • Use size classes: One single layout won't always fit all displays. Use size classes to build a base layout and then customize each specific size class based on individual needs. But don’t treat each size class as a completely separate design; as you saw in this tutorial, your app should easily transition from one size class to another, and you don't want to surprise your user with a dramatic change as they drag the divider.

Where to go from here?

You can download the completed project here.

This iOS 9 multitasking tutorial only touched on the basics of multitasking — it's up to developers like you to help chart the course for accepted multitasking design patterns of the future.

This tutorial was an abbreviated version of Chapter 5, “Multitasking” from iOS 9 by Tutorials. If you’d like to learn more about multitasking and other new features in iOS 9 please check out the book!

In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about this tutorial or Stack Views in general, please join the forum discussion below!




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