How to share a mouse, keyboard and trackpad between iPad and Mac

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iPad, share keyboard, and trackpad
Tap a switch to use your Mac's trackpad and keyboard with your iPad.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Apple’s new Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro — the one with the built-in trackpad — looks amazing. But it costs $350. That’s very pricey for a keyboard. Plus, it’s a keyboard that will only be useful for as long as it can attach to your iPad Pro. That means it might not fit your next tablet if Apple tweaks the iPad Pro design.

Compare that to a USB or Bluetooth keyboard, which will remain compatible with every computer that gets made in the foreseeable future. Toady we’ll see how to share your Mac’s keyboard and mouse or trackpad with your iPad. We’ll also learn how to instantly switch between the two, both with USB and Bluetooth.

No, it’s not as portable as the new Magic Keyboard case, but it’s less messy on your desk. And you will likely have a better keyboard, and a better trackpad.

$350 buys a really, really good Bluetooth keyboard

The Filco MiniLa Air Bluetooth, alongside my own tenkeyless Filco Majestouch
The Filco MiniLa Air Bluetooth, alongside my own tenkeyless Filco Majestouch.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

If you already own a keyboard and mouse you’re happy with, you can use those. Or you can go shopping. I use a Filco Majestouch keyboard (it costs around $120), and an Apple Magic Trackpad 2 ($129). I would then combine these with a switching USB hub (more on that below). Mine set me back around $35.

If I add all that up, I get to $284. And that’s for, in my opinion, the best keyboard and trackpad available. You could even throw in a mouse and still have money left over.

Note: Thanks to recent iOS 13 updates, you can use any keyboard with an iPad, even a PC keyboard, because the iOS settings now let you swap the ⌘ and ⌥ keys to make them work like they do on a Mac.

Everything we wanted the Smart Keyboard to be
Everything we wanted the Smart Keyboard to be.
Photo: Apple

One important point to note: You really want Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 if you plan to use it with an iPad. That’s because it’s the only device (apart from the new Magic Keyboard case and Logitech’s new Combo Touch case) that works with all the multitouch trackpad gestures available in iPadOS 13.4.

Bluetooth?

Some Bluetooth mice and keyboards come with a switch that lets you connect them to different devices. Several Logitech keyboards and mice come with three buttons that can quickly connect to different devices. I like this feature, but the switching is slow — and you have to switch each device individually as you jump between your Mac and iPad.

If you go with one of these types of devices, you’re done. Just follow the instructions that came with your new peripherals.

USB keyboard and trackpad switcher for iPad and Mac

This Ugreen switcher works fine, but any old switcher will do the trick.
This Ugreen switcher works fine, but any old switcher will do the trick.
Photo: Amazon

I prefer a different option. I have my keyboard and Magic Trackpad 2 hooked up to the above-mentioned USB 2.0 switcher hub. The hub packs four USB A ports on one side, into which you can plug your keyboard, mouse and trackpad. On the other side are two more USB A ports, and you use these with the supplied USB A-to-A cables to connect to your Mac and your iPad. I have the hub clipped to the stand of my iMac, with the second cable running to a USB-C dock I use for the iPad.

With this setup, I hook my iPad up to its USB-C dock, as usual, and whenever I want to use the keyboard and trackpad, I just reach behind the Mac and press the button. The trackpad and keyboard are instantly available on the iPad. It’s like magic. And because I’m using it via a powered hub, the iPad also stays charged, and is connected to my audio interface, speakers, etc. And the best thing is, it just works.

There are lots of USB switch hubs available. I can’t find mine on the U.S. Amazon site, but search for KVM switches and you’ll find something. There are even KVM switches that can share a monitor between computers, but I have no idea how well that might work with an iPad.

Enjoy connecting your keyboard to Mac and iPad

This is a niche setup, but it’s a large niche. If you need to turn your iPad into a laptop with a trackpad, then Apple’s option is still best. But if your use-case is sitting at the desk, then this is a much better option. You get a better keyboard, and a bigger trackpad. It’s also far cheaper than buying the new Magic Keyboard, because you just need to buy the switch — surely your Mac already has a keyboard and mouse/trackpad you like, so just use them.