Apple made a lot of iPad users very happy yesterday where they unveiled mouse and trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4. A someone who has been asking for more full featured mouse support for a while, this got me really excited and I immediately installed the update and tried it out.
Pairing your mouse is super simple. Just hold down the pairing button on the mouse, open the Bluetooth settings page on the iPad, and tap your mouse that appears in the list of available devices.
That’s it, the next time you move the mouse at all, the new cursor will show up on screen.
Movement and Scrolling
Basic mouse support was added in an accessibility feature last year, and that was okay, but it was clearly a hack on top of iPadOS. It was aimed at simulating the same touch events you did with your fingers. This mouse support is much different, and it’s absolutely not a tacked on feature.
First, the cursor itself looks much nicer, and it adjusts its form depending on what you’re hovering over. The way it animates from circle to cursor to buttons is really slick, and immediately made the Mac/Windows style of moue feel a little old to me.
And moving the mouse feels perfectly normal, which is that say it feels like using this mouse on my Mac. Additionally, scrolling with Logitech’s awesome scroll wheel is a delight. This all feels more fluid and more natural than doing these same things with the accessibility version of mouse support.
And if you prefer different settings, there are options to change the tracking speed, the scroll direction, and what the right click button does. Interestingly, there are no options to configure the other buttons on the mouse to do anything. So my back, forward, and scroll wheel buttons all are now left-click buttons, which is weird. Right-click does indeed work as you’d expect.
Where Did the Cursor Go?!
This first implementation is not perfect though. The first thing that throws me is that when you hover over certain elements, the cursor goes away and the thing you’re hovering over gets highlighted. It’s not always obvious what you’re hovered over, especially on things like home screen icons because the difference between the hovered icon and all the rest is super slight. Can you tell where the mouse is in this screenshot?
You might have been able to tell it was Deliveries, but you had to think about it.
Also, because the cursor turns into the thing you’re hovered over, you lose some context on excactly where inside that item the cursor is. This made moving the mouse elsewhere a little odd because I didn’t know exactly where I was starting from. One of the things that’s great about the mouse is how accurate you can be with it and this makes it so you feel less accurate than you’re used to being. Conveniently, you can turn this behavior off by going to Settings > Accessibility > Pointer Control and turning off pointer animations.
I’m leaving it on for now because this is how Apple thinks it should be and I may get used to it and come to love it, but I’m keeping this escape hatch in the back of my mind just in case I never come around.
iPadOS has always been a touch-first operating system, and over the past decade of using iPads, I’m very used to how things work with my fingers and Apple Pencil. I know how to drag files around, pull up multitasking, and do all the little things with the iPad.
The mouse doesn’t simulate touch interactions, so you kind of have to figure out how to do everything with the mouse. For example, I wanted to select multiple items from the Files app this morning and drag them into Safari. With touch this is incredibly simple. but I could not figure it out with the mouse. I tried CMD+clicking around and could not do it, and eventually gave up and used my meaty fingers in 2 seconds.
Also, things like bringing up multitasking is a little tricky, as are pulling down notifications or accessing Control Center. You can do them, but the actions you perform with the mouse are a bit different and are taking a little time to get used to.
I think using a mouse with the iPad on its own is nice, but is not something I’m going to do all the time. I did find using Working Copy to edit code and Affinity Designer to edit images to be a little nicer with the mouse, but most things are either the same or more difficult. The iPad’s touch-first UI is really fantastic and I often felt like direct manipulation of the stuff on screen was easier than using an old fashioned mouse to do the same thing. After all, this is one of the things that makes me love the iPad in the first place!
I do think this makes the use case for a larger, desktop iPad (or even an iPad hooked up to an external monitor) to be a much more compelling use case going forward. I also wish I had a track pad to try this out with. I think a track pad + keyboard + touch would be really nice, and I look forward to trying that out in May when the very expensive, but very cool looking iPad Magic Keyboard comes out.