On March 24, 2020, all iPads gained extensive and inventive cursor support through the release of iPadOS 13.4. Coincidentally, March 24, 2020 was also the day that I fell in love with my iPad all over again.
I’ve made no attempt to hide my love of working on iPad before now and I’m certainly not going to start doing that anytime soon. In many ways, iPad, and specifically iPad Pro, have transformed the way I accomplish my work every day. Not only do I have a device that’s more powerful than many “more traditional” computers, I have something that I can take with me anywhere and do anything with.
Do I need to do some serious work with it? Then I connect my keyboard (and now, trackpad) and get to working. Do I want to pop it off my stand and just poke my finger across the screen as I read a story on the couch? I can do that without hesitation. Do I want to play some Apple Arcade games with my PlayStation 4 controller? Not a problem at all.
All that and it weighs less than one and a half pounds? For me, this is my ideal device.
However, for too long it was a device I used for serious work that required me to extend my arm to the screen and manipulate the interface whenever I needed to do something I couldn’t accomplish with keyboard shortcuts. It was a real pain in the butt (or rather, shoulder) sometimes.
Those dark days are over and done with now, friends! Cursor support on iPad is here and I couldn’t be happier about it.
But... why not just use a laptop?
Yes, the eternal refrain.
Okay listen, what computer someone chooses to use doesn’t mean anything so long as it allows them to complete their work on a device and operating system that makes the most sense to that person. The computers (and software) we choose to use isn’t a zero-sum game. My love for my iPad doesn’t take anything away from whatever computer you enjoy using.
In this case, my iPad Pro and iPadOS make the most sense for me—I love the form factor, I love how powerful it is, and I really dislike using Windows.
My iPad does exactly what I need it to (and then some) and that’s all that matters. If you want to use a laptop, a tower that sits on your floor, or even the world’s most expensive supercomputer stored in a temperature-controlled bunker a mile underground, then you do you, baby.
I’m going to be over here doing what I love doing.
What does cursor support mean?
Cursor support on iPad simply means that you can now use a Bluetooth trackpad or mouse to move a pointer icon around on the screen. Before iPadOS 13.4, this was only available as an accessibility feature. It gave you a “cursor,” yes, but not in the way you might imagine. Instead of the familiar pointer we’re accustomed to using, it was more of a “virtual finger” on your screen.
It was also very limited.
What we have now is different. Instead of a “virtual finger,” we’ve got a real mouse that we can move around. We can click through links in a website, scroll up and down a document, and even right-click to bring up contextual menus. It’s almost exactly the same experience you’d expect from a normal cursor.
Except this one is way better.
There are a few notable differences that make this new cursor a joy to use:
- Instead of the usual arrow, we’re given a small circle to navigate with.
- That circle can morph into the shape of a button when it hovers over a clickable zone in the UI of apps.
- The circle will also transform into a bar that looks like a lowercase L when hovered over text, making editing documents even easier.
Additionally, when the cursor is moved over an app icon, the circle is sucked into the icon, much the same way that you move through apps on Apple TV.
This new cursor unlocks the ability to do more with iPad than ever before. No longer is it this powerful device just a hunk of glass, metal, and silicon that has to be poked at to be used. It’s become the device it was always meant to be: a computer that can adapt to any task it’s given.
How to use a trackpad or mouse with iPad
One of the best parts about this new cursor support for iPad is that it works for all iPads that can run iPadOS 13.4. Yep, even that old iPad Air 2 you might still have stashed away in a drawer someplace.
Connect your device by opening the Settings app and tapping Bluetooth in the left column. If you’re using an Apple trackpad or mouse, turn it on and place it near your iPad. If you’re using a third party device, you’ll need to follow their directions to put the device into pairing mode.
Look for your device under Other Devices and tap its name when it appears there. Ta-da! Your device is now paired.
You should be able to immediately use it to move around the iPad cursor. All the standard clicking and scrolling you’re used to with other computers is the same here. Experiment, click around, and have fun with it!
Additional cursor settings
Out of the box, cursor support works just fine for most people. However, if you’re like me and enjoy fiddling with settings, there are some things we can do to fine-tune our iPad cursor. Let’s start by opening up the Settings app and navigating to General -> Trackpad & Mouse.
Here you’ll find some general settings we can adjust to make the cursor behave exactly how we’d like it to. We can adjust:
- The tracking speed of the cursor, or how fast it moves across the screen.
- Natural scrolling, which will alter the direction of a page when scrolling up and down.
- Tap to Click and Two Finger Secondary Click for trackpads.
- Secondary click options for a mouse.
Those are the options that’ll cover nearly everything you could ever need to adjust. However, we can mess with things even further if you’d like. In Settings, go to Accessibility -> Pointer Control. In this menu, we can adjust the appearance and some additional behaviors of the cursor, including:
- Increase Contrast, which darkens the cursor circle.
- Automatically Hide Pointer, allowing us to adjust how long the cursor stays onscreen after it comes to rest.
- Color, an additional menu that lets us add a stroke of color around the cursor circle.
- Pointer Size, where we can grow or shrink the size of the cursor circle.
- Pointer Animations, which allow us to turn on or off the way the cursor forms the shape of buttons when hovering over clickable items.
- Trackpad Inertia, allowing us to turn on or off the ability for the cursor to continue moving slightly after you stop moving your hand on your device.
- Scrolling Speed, which allows us to change how fast a page moves when we scroll through it.
There are loads of options that can keep you busy for quite a while. Most of what I listed won’t need any adjustment at all. Apple does a good job of giving you exactly what you need right from the beginning, but it’s always good to know we can adjust things to work like a dream.
Some may mock this new cursor support as another example of Apple finally giving in and turning iPad into a laptop. They may also say that the Surface is a tablet that’s offered cursor support for years.
“Welcome to the party, Apple.”
I think those people are missing the point and not appreciating what the iPad cursor is doing.
iPad was never meant to be a traditional laptop with a touchscreen slapped on top of it. From the start, iPad was always meant to have a touch-first interface. Over time, it’s gained additional abilities that have only added to the iPad experience. It was given keyboard support which allowed for easy text creation. The Apple Pencil has opened up a world of ability for artists, note takers, and even someone who just needs to sign a PDF.
Now we can use a trackpad or mouse to select, scroll, and edit our way through the entire interface.
All of this was done in a way that’s quintessentially Apple: obsessed over, well-intentioned, and seamless. This isn’t just a cursor. This is an iPad cursor. It works perfectly with the device it was made for, allowing iPad to realize its full potential. It’s not just a fancy tablet, it’s a powerful computer that can be used for nearly anything you can imagine.
Click like you mean it, cats.