Inside Apple’s quest to perfect the mouse pointer for iPad

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iPad-Pro-pointer
It works like magic.
Photo: Apple

Apple spent time reinventing the mouse pointer to make it perfect for iPad, revealed Craig Federighi, the company’s senior vice president of software engineering, in a new interview.

Its brand-new system, which debuted in iPadOS 13.4 in March, is inspired by Apple TV and designed to feel familiar to those who have never used a mouse or trackpad with iPad before.

“We set out to design the cursor in a way that retains the touch-first experience without fundamentally changing the UI,” Federighi said.

Some iPad users may have preferred a traditional mouse pointer on iPad, but Apple had no intention of simply porting the Mac’s pointer to touch devices. It works on desktops, but Apple felt iPad needed something else entirely.

It settled on an adaptive pointer that works across iPadOS and its many apps, without the need for user interface modifications. Apple’s new system ensures the touch experience iPad users love is always present.

Reinventing iPad’s mouse pointer

“We knew we wanted a very touch-centric cursor that was not conveying an unnecessary level of precision,” Federighi revealed to TechCrunch. “We knew we had a focus experience similar to Apple TV that we could take advantage of in a delightful way. We knew that when dealing with text we wanted to provide a greater sense of feedback.”

The end result is a pointer that’s inspired by a number of different software interfaces.

The experience draws from our work on tvOS, from years of work on the Mac, and from the origins of iPhone X and early iPad, creating something new that feels really natural for iPad.

One of the things that makes the iPad’s pointer special is the way in which it adapts to what’s on screen. It’s a circle that mimics your fingertip by default, but it turns into an I-beam over text, and morphs seamlessy into on-screen buttons.

iPadOS-trackpad-cursor
A brand-new pointer just for iPad.
Photo: Apple

A touch-first experience

“When we were first thinking about the cursor, we needed it to reflect the natural and easy experience of using your finger when high precision isn’t necessary, like when accessing an icon on the home screen, but it also needed to scale very naturally into high precision tasks like editing text,” Federighi said.

Apple also had to think about how the pointer would work in other areas, like on the web, where every website has its own way of doing things. It knew web developers wouldn’t accommodate Apple, so it needed a system that would ensure a “really high level of compatibility out of the gates.”

iPadOS-trackpad-select-text
Its animations are terrific.
Photo: Apple

Apple was also careful not to undo the work it had already put into making iPadOS one of the best touch-based operating systems. It had to ensure that “customers who may never use a trackpad with their iPad won’t have to learn something new, while making it great for those who may switch back and forth between touch and trackpad.”

Apple is clearly proud of the end result, which has already been well-received by iPad users. Check out the full interview with Federighi on TechCrunch.