Mac desktop setup lovers have had a great month. The Studio Display is Apple’s first new display in more than a decade that is vaguely cheap (as opposed to $6,000). But there’s a new option I’ve been experimenting with that completely changes the concept of an external display. Universal Control is now available in iOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3, and you should give it a shot if you can make it work in your setup.
If you haven’t heard of Universal Control, it basically allows you to control your iPad with your Mac’s keyboard, mouse, or trackpad (or another Mac, though I haven’t tested that). Simply move your mouse to the side of your Mac’s monitor, and your cursor will jump over to the iPad as if it were another monitor connected to your Mac. But it’s still an iPad, not a Mac monitor. Only one that you can manage with the keyboard and trackpad you were using with your Mac just a few moments ago.
For many years, you’ve been able to utilise iPads as wired or wireless external Mac monitors via official or third-party apps. You’re still utilising iPad OS on the iPad’s screen with Universal Control; you just don’t have to remove your hands off your Mac’s input devices to get there. Instead of just multiple apps, it’s multitasking across multiple OSes and devices.
Why would you want to do something like that? That’s a good question. Since Apple decided to start making nice laptops again, You haven’t been using iPadOS as much as a primary work operating system, but there are still some things you prefer it to macOS for. It’s especially useful in situations where you only need one or two things onscreen at a time.
Social media and entertainment apps, for example, are usually better on the iPad than on the Mac, if the Mac even offers a native app. You largely worked on the Mac Mini today, with Slack and Twitter pinned to the side of the iPad Pro screen, and occasionally switching to the YouTube app for research. Anything to reduce the number of browser tabs and Electron apps, right?
Universal Control is particularly impressive in that it bridges the gap between the two operating systems, making it more than just a convenient solution to avoid Bluetooth re-pairing. A file can be dragged from your iPad to your Mac desktop and vice versa. Copying and pasting works well. It means that any work you perform on one machine can be transferred to the other quickly.
You don’t even need to set anything up; simply place your iPad next to your Mac and try moving the pointer around the screens; Universal Control will figure out what you’re trying to accomplish. It also doesn’t require any Apple accessories.You have been using it with my Magic Trackpad and, of all things, a Happy Hacking Keyboard connected via Mini USB.
This has to be a big design and technical challenge. Universal Control was revealed during Apple’s previous Worldwide Developers Conference in June of last year, but it hasn’t been ready until now. However, the extra time appears to have been well worth the wait, as it has worked almost flawlessly for us. That hasn’t been the case with Sidecar, Apple’s function that transforms the iPad into an external Mac monitor, which has always been sluggish and inconsistent in the experience.
Universal Control, even in its beta condition, is already a shining example of Apple’s best work. This isn’t an apparent feature, and it’s not one that tens of thousands of people have been clamouring for. But it’s a feature made possible by the fact that Apple has complete control over the software on a large number of iPads and Macs, and it’s a feature that will make a small number of people very happy by its sheer brilliance. Count me as one of them.
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