Apple has the wrong attitude toward mouse support on iPad [Opinion]

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An iPad trackpad?! Too bad it’s only a dream.
It could be so much better.
Photo: Brydge

Apple will finally bring mouse support to iPad (and iPhone) when it rolls out major software updates this fall — and that’s awesome. Finally, you will gain full control over your device without needing to lift a finger.

But I think Apple takes the wrong attitude when it comes to mouse support on iOS.

Its current approach could hold back development of the feature later on, and could negatively impact people who really need it. It also goes against Apple’s mission to make the iPad a laptop replacement.

I’m not unhappy with the current implementation of mouse support in the iOS 13 and iPadOS betas. In fact, I’m delighted it’s there. And although it does need some tweaks and improvements, I think it works great as it is.

What frustrates me is Apple’s view on mouse support.

Apple doesn’t want everyone to use a mouse

Apple designed iOS solely for touch input. Steve Jobs keenly highlighted this when he unveiled the very first iPhone in 2007 and told us a stylus wasn’t necessary. But a lot has changed since then.

The iPhone and iPad are more powerful than ever before — more powerful than the vast majority of notebook computers on sale today. And iOS is now more capable than Apple’s mobile operating system has ever been.

You can do incredible things with iOS apps today — things that simply weren’t possible without a desktop computer just a few years ago. You can make movies and music, edit your best photos, create gorgeous animations and works of art, and lots more.

A growing number of people now use an iPad in place of a laptop or desktop PC. I am one of them; I rarely power up my Mac anymore because I just don’t need it, and I’m happier when working in iOS. Several of my colleagues here at Cult of Mac also use an iPad for work.

But despite all of this, Apple remains adamant that it wants everyone to use touch at all times on iPad unless it’s physically impossible.

Mouse support is for those who really need it

Mouse support is “an accessibility feature first and foremost,” Apple told accessibility reporter Steve Aquino this week. It is “meant for users who literally cannot access their devices without a mouse.”

Apple “strongly emphasized this was designed and developed expressly for a certain segment of user.”

In other words, Apple wants you to use touch if you can. You shouldn’t be controlling your iPhone or iPad with a mouse unless it’s absolutely necessary.

But why is Apple so adamant about that? Why can’t it embrace the fact that some people — mostly those who use an iPad for work — would just prefer to use a mouse?

Will this hold back iPad mouse support?

What worries me about Apple’s view is that it will hold back iPad mouse support in the future. It’s almost as if Apple doesn’t want to make mouse support too good, just in case those who can use touch choose to use a mouse instead.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m happy with mouse support as it is right now. You can choose your cursor color, enlarge it if you need to, and even set mouse buttons to do different things. But there are many ways Apple could improve it.

It would be great if there were more cursor-customization options — specifically a smaller one. I would also like the ability to right-click instead of having to left-click and hold for functions like copy and paste. I’d like to be able to hover the cursor over links in Safari to access menus and the like.

Will we ever get those things if mouse support is seen solely as an accessibility feature? Now that we have the ability to control iOS and iPadOS with a mouse, and the basics have been nailed down, will Apple stop there?

Mouse support could mean so much more

If Apple were to accept that lots of people might choose to use a mouse, it could lead to much bigger things — especially for iPadOS.

It’s easier then ever to connect an iPad Pro to an external display now that the high-end tablets pack a USB-C port. Apple even touted this as a major selling point during its unveiling of the latest models. But as things stand, using a display with an iPad remains largely pointless.

It’s easier to see your apps on a larger screen, but you still must use your iPad to interact with them. And very few apps take advantage of external monitor support (probably because there’s not a great deal you can do with it).

Mouse support changes that. Now you don’t need to touch your iPad to control apps on another screen. You can set it aside and use it just like you would a MacBook plugged into a monitor.

So, Apple could make it so that iPadOS adapts to external displays and takes advantage of their wider aspect ratio. It could give us the ability to run one app on our iPad and an entirely different one on the second screen. It could make it so we could use more apps in Split View on a larger display.

But Apple won’t do those things, because you’re not supposed to use a mouse unless you have to.

Should an iPad be just an iPad?

Some, like several of my colleagues at Cult of Mac, might argue that Apple is taking the right approach with mouse support. They might insist the iPad should be an iPad, and that we shouldn’t try to use it like a laptop. They would say it’s a general-purpose device for browsing the web, checking email and watching videos on YouTube.

That’s not what Apple wants the iPad to be anymore, though. Yes, the tablet proves great at those things. But the Pro models in particular are now ideal for so much more. Apple positions the iPad as a laptop replacement. It wants people to ditch their notebooks and use its tablets instead.

If it was just a general-purpose device, the iPad wouldn’t need to be so powerful. It wouldn’t need a 120Hz display and USB-C connectivity. It wouldn’t need to read flash drives or the ability to connect to SMB servers. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even need Split View and Slide Over multitasking.

Apple wants us to be able to use the iPad for big things. Yet the company holds back on one of the key features that some pro users really desire.

If Apple changed its stance on iPad mouse support, it could make the iPad a better laptop replacement — and even a great desktop computer.