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Apple adds multitasking to iPad tablets

The sought-after feature comes with the new iOS 9, though simultaneous side-by-side use of apps will only be available for the iPad 2.

Craig Federighi shows off the multitasking functions of iOS 9. James Martin/CNET

Apple boosted the amount of multitasking people can do with their iPads -- a long-sought addition to its tablets -- with its new iOS 9 mobile operating system.

"iPad has always supported forms of multitasking," Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, said Monday at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference. "But for iOS 9, we're taking it to a whole new place."

While users typically can only use one app at a time on an iPad screen, the new multitasking function on the iPad Air 2 will let them create a split screen of two apps side-by-side, called "Split View," being able to use both at the same time. Another feature, called "Slide Over," lets users swipe in a second app from the side without having to close the first app. Also, users can create a picture-in-picture, such as allowing someone to watch ESPN in a smaller screen while looking something up on a web browser.

These kind of multi-window features has already been available in some competing tablets, but comes to Apple's tablets now for the first time.

Split View will be available only the iPad Air 2. Slide Over and picture-in-picture will be available for the iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2 and iPad Mini 3.

The changes could help ramp up demand for the iPad, one of Apple's most-important devices but one that's been a weak spot for the company. In the quarter that ended in March, the tablet posted its fifth consecutive decline to 12.6 million units sold from 16.4 million a year earlier. Consumers have been holding on to their tablets for longer and opting to purchase bigger-screen iPhones and Macs instead.

Apple introduced its newest tablets -- the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3 -- in October, but analysts said their incremental changes, including faster processors, weren't enough to attract buyers. The company, which has long claimed iPad weakness is a "speed bump," is now counting on a partnership with IBM to increase iPad sales to business users. Multitasking functions could be a big benefit for those kinds of customers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, while acknowledging that iPad sales are weak, has said it's not something that worries Apple. He expects iPad sales to stabilize at some point but couldn't predict when it would happen.

Updated, 2:25 p.m. PT: Included iPad models for specific features.