iPad trackpad hands on: Everything you want to know about new features

Hands on: Everything you want to know about iPad Pro’s new trackpad features


Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, iPad
Pretty much any mouse will work with the iPad in iPadOS 13.4.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Apple’s new Magic Keyboard case for the iPad Pro looks amazing. But its most impressive feature (aside from that incredibly solid-looking hinge) will become available to any iPad owner with a mouse or trackpad laying around. The new trackpad support coming next week in iOS 13.4 works with pretty much any Bluetooth or USB mouse. You just connect the peripheral, and a cursor appears on the iPad screen.

This is a much, much better system than the cobbled-together mouse support that already exists in iOS 13’s Accessibility settings. Instead of simply imitating a finger on-screen, Apple completely rethought how a cursor should work on a touch-based device. This thing is deep, as we’re about to see.

Here’s a hands-on look at the new iPad mouse and trackpad features.

Switching on trackpad support

If you’re bringing your own mouse or trackpad, just connect it. If it’s a USB device, plug it into your iPad’s USB-C or Lightning port (with or without a dock or adapter in between). You can connect Bluetooth mice or trackpads just like any other Bluetooth device. Once you connect a mouse or trackpad, a new section appears in the Settings app. It looks like this:

The settings for the latest Magic Trackpad on iPad Pro.
The settings for the latest Magic Trackpad on iPad Pro.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The actual options will vary depending on what you connect. Above you see the options for Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2. These work just like the same options on the Mac. You can switch on Tap to Click, and Two-Finger Secondary Click (right-click) tap. Yes, the mouse can now do a proper right-click, popping up contextual menus instantly rather than making you wait for a long-press to take effect.

Even the original trackpad works, but with very basic options.
Even the original trackpad works, but with very basic options.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

If you connect a regular mouse, you won’t see those extra settings. I’ve also tried Apple’s original trackpad, the one that takes AA batteries. It works, but lacks any gesture support. If you attach a multibutton mouse, its scroll wheel works as expected, and you also can assign all kinds of other functions to the buttons. This has to be done inside the Accessibility > Assistive Touch settings. (We have an in-depth how-to on that here.) You also can hook up the Magic Trackpad via its USB cable if you like. In my setup, there’s less lag when connected by cable.

The iPad mouse, evolved

In iPadOS 13.4, the iPad mouse cursor appears as a small circle instead of an arrow. You move it and click as normal, but you get an extra level of interactivity with the iPad user interface. Mouse over a Home screen icon, for example, and the cursor gives a little wiggle and raises itself up, showing a drop shadow underneath. Mouse over a button, and it gets surrounded by a little lozenge. This seems like gimmickry, but it’s essential on a UI designed for the inaccurate stab of a finger. The highlight shows that you are indeed about to click on the right thing, and makes the whole experience smoother.

The text cursor is also improved. Mouse over text, and the cursor turns into an I-beam. You can now click between letters to place the cursor exactly in a word. Previously, the cursor would be forced to the beginning or end of a clicked word. You can also double-click to select a word, and triple-click to select a paragraph. Double-click and drag behaves as expected, selecting first a word, and then expanding that selection. It works just like on the Mac. If you use a Mac, you’ll be instantly at home.

Trackpad gestures on iPad

But the best part here is the gestures. If you’re using a Magic Trackpad, you get access to two- and three-finger swipes. On the Magic Mouse, you can use two-finger gestures. Here’s a list of what they all do:

One-finger gestures

One finger usually just moves the mouse pointer, but it also takes the place of swiping in from the edge of the screen. If you mouse over to the far right, for example, then push the pointer against the edge once again, your Slide Over app pops in. Do the same thing again to dismiss Slide Over. (This would be cool on the Mac, too, for grabbing Notification Center.)

Look at the battery indicator. That’s the trackpad mouse over indicator.
Look at the battery indicator. That lozenge is the trackpad’s mouse over indicator.
Photo: Cult of Mac

If you mouse to the bottom of the screen, the Dock pops up (and way faster than the Mac’s dock, too, which I like).

Mouse to the top of the screen and then push up again to show the notifications screen. Mouse all the way back to the bottom to dismiss notifications.

Mouse up to the top right to show the Control Center.

You also can mouse over the battery indicator and the dates in the top corners of the screen, and click on those to show the Control Center and Notifications view.

Two-finger gestures

  • Two-finger click or tap to right-click.
  • Two fingers vertically to scroll.
  • Two fingers horizontally to go back/forward in Safari.
  • Two fingers horizontally to go back/forward in nested menus (in the Settings app, for instance).
  • Pinch to zoom in or out.
  • A two-finger flick up on a notification to flick it off the screen.
  • Two-finger swipe on Home screen to show Spotlight.

Three-finger gestures

  • Swipe left and right to switch apps.
  • Swipe left and right over the Slide Over panel to switch between Slide Over apps.
  • Swipe up to go to the Home screen.
  • Swipe up and hold to show the multitasking/app-switcher view.
  • Flick up on an app in multitasking view to force-quit it.

Using the new iPad trackpad gestures

The trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4 is amazing. It’s now totally possible to use your iPad without touching the screen. This means that it can be both a laptop or a tablet, depending on which you prefer at the time. In fact, in some ways it’s now better than the MacBook, because you can raise the iPad on a stand to eye level, and use the keyboard and trackpad down on the desk.

Trackpad support on the iPad just feels right at this point, and that’s refreshing. Apple’s software has been full of missteps recently. The stock apps are confusingly designed and mostly moribund. And the launches of iOS 13 and macOS Catalina were disasters.

But this trackpad support and (from first looks) the new Magic Keyboard case seem to be Apple at its best. The company rethought how a trackpad should work on a touchscreen device, and made that device way more useful. At the same time, most developers will have to do nothing to gain support, and you don’t even have to buy Apple’s absurdly priced keyboard accessory to use it.



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