Apple’s Universal Control deepens the iOS-MacOS relationship

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Universal Control is here, and it works as well as I expected.

Screenshot / Apple

I wanted iPads and Macs to connect for years. In 2022, they are still separated. But a common thread runs through both: it’s literally the cursor that now jumps between my iPad and the MacBook on my desk.

Apples Universal control, a long-awaited feature that is in beta on iPadOS 15.4 and macOS 12.3 is sometimes amazing and sometimes invisible. And sometimes it doesn’t work at all.

This feature allows your Mac keyboard and trackpad / mouse to control a nearby iPad as well – or vice versa if you’re using an iPad keyboard or accessory. Basically, it lets seemingly any nearby keyboard control all your devices. Hence the Universal Control. I have tried it on 12-inch iPad Pro and the newest iPad Air so far, next door M1 MacBook Air.

The idea isn’t that crazy, but trying it out feels like the most magical thing I’ve seen in recent iPad versions. My MacBook cursor, as it approaches the edge of the display, just jumps off and goes into the iPad. Yes, as with any other sub monitor connected.

What makes it amazing is that iPadOS works differently. In iPad-Land, the cursor becomes larger and turns into nearby applications. Mimics the performance of trackpads, keyboards, and mice on an iPad.

Previously, Apple already had Sidecarwhich also allow iPads to act as pencil-compatible second screens for Mac computers. Universal Control is the next step. Oddly enough, of all the things this relationship reminds me of now, I think about VR … and what Meta was doing with her Quest headsets and computers.

Own finish Horizon Studios and several other applications can be paired with a MacBook or several other keyboards to feel as if your device suddenly jumped into the VR headset. In Horizon Workrooms, a computer can control VR. Or a VR headset can connect to your computer’s desktop and become a head-worn second screen.

With all the AR visions Apple expected, incl reported headset next year, remote access to dovetail devices will be critical. In fact, device relationships are at the heart of what the current metaverse noise cycle is all about. But even if you never wear an Apple VR / AR headset, extending the way iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TV act as connected nodes in one ambient supercomputer seems to be the way forward. Not only for Apple, but for technology in general.

Universal, but not always intuitive

Universal Control, however, is not intuitive to configure. It doesn’t only “work” when updating the operating system. Instead, you need to make sure that both devices have Bluetooth turned on, are on the same Wi-Fi network, are close to each other, and have specific settings turned on. For Macs, in Display Settings, Universal Control has three specific settings to be unchecked, all listed as “beta” functions, allowing your Mac to extend the cursor / keyboard, slide over the edge of the display, and reconnect to a nearby device. Then you can add your iPad as a display and change the dual display setup like any set of monitors with your Mac. iPad must also have “cursor and keyboard (beta)” enabled in Airplay and Handoff settings.

After that, it seems to work, but sometimes you find that when your device wakes up from sleep, it doesn’t automatically activate. I’m still getting used to it. Moreover, it is a beta feature. And while the MacBook Air trackpad seems to work fine on the iPad Pro, the iPad Pro Magic keyboard trackpad seems to track slowly on Mac.

But is it fun to jump across both devices with one keyboard and trackpad? This is how it is. Sometimes controlling your iPad or Mac from another device is like reading your mind. Or remote telepresence. And with a monitor connected to a MacBook Air and an iPad nearby, it’s now sort of a three-screen system that I control with a single keyboard / trackpad.

I still think iPadOS should evolve to macOS or add a Mac layer, especially for professional level iPads. Macs are also late for some touchscreen features. While Universal Control doesn’t do that, it does make devices that much more connected. I can even move a few things over the gulf: the file can be dragged from my Mac desktop, but it has to land in a specific application to complete the transfer (like Apple’s iPad Files app). However, I can’t drag windows, apps, or browser tabs together like I always do on monitors with a Mac. So close and so far at the same time.

iPads still don’t extend to other monitors, with the exception of a few apps. But what if they did? What if iPads ran in an operating system ecosystem similar to that of Mac computers? Complete the journey, Apple, and upgrade your iPadOS to WWDC this year. All the pieces are there. You just have to finish the job. Let these worlds come together as the walls are getting thinner than ever.

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