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Here’s how mouse support could change the way you use your iPad

Here’s how mouse support could change the way you use your iPad


A buried feature, but a pretty good one

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ipad mouse
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

When Apple announced iPadOS earlier this month, no-one from the company made mention of a major new feature: mouse support. Apple no doubt has good reasons for wanting to keep people focused on the touch interface, but the ability to use a mouse has the potential to completely change how people get things done on the iPad Pro. Here’s how it works, and here’s how to get started.

First of all, you’ll need to be running the iPadOS 13 public beta, which is now available for anyone to install. (This also technically works on iOS 13, in case you really want to use a mouse on your iPhone.) The usual caveats about beta software apply: it’s super buggy right now, so don’t try this out on a primary machine unless you have a good reason to, and make sure to back everything up first.

Next, you’ll have to actually enable the mouse support, because it’s turned off by default and buried in the Accessibility menu. The feature is an extension of AssistiveTouch, which has been around in iOS for many years and is most commonly used as an on-screen floating home button. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  • Open the Settings app
  • Go to Accessibility
  • Go to Touch, under the Physical and Motor section
  • Turn on the AssistiveTouch toggle
  • Go to Pointing Devices

At this point you’ll need to have your pointing device ready to go. You can use a mouse over Bluetooth or USB; if you’re using the former, you’ll have to make sure it’s paired. I had no problem getting up and running with my Logitech MX Master. Or, assuming you don’t have a USB-C mouse kicking around, you’ll need a USB-A to C adapter to plug a regular wired mouse directly into the iPad Pro’s USB-C port. I tried this with a Mad Catz RAT and the tracking actually felt smoother than the Logitech. It’s possible that wired mice work better with the faster refresh rates of Apple’s ProMotion displays, but I can’t be certain there.

I also tested Apple’s Magic Trackpad and it worked fine over a USB-C to Lightning cable, but I couldn’t find a way to pair it wirelessly. I will also say that the cognitive dissonance of using a touch surface as a mouse for a touch OS felt like a lot to get over, particularly as Mac gestures like two-finger scrolling don’t work.

You’ll probably want to turn off the regular AssistiveTouch floating button — you can do that by tapping the Always Show Menu toggle, though you’ll still see the button whenever a pointing device isn’t connected. You’ll find various other options that you can tweak to your liking, such as tracking speed (complete with cute tortoise and hare icons) and the appearance of the cursor.

If you’re thinking “that sure sounds like a lot of steps just to enable something as potentially fundamental to the user experience as mouse support,” well, you wouldn’t be wrong. Apple clearly doesn’t see this as a mainstream feature just yet, though, and isn’t going to be pushing it on people. 

Does that mean it isn’t for you? Not necessarily. There have been tons of times when I’ve wanted a mouse or trackpad for my iPad. Apple’s historical argument for not selling touchscreen laptops has been that it sucks to constantly have to reach up from the keyboard to touch the screen. This is true, but given the lack of a trackpad it’s even more true of the iPad Pro than touchscreen Windows laptops.

For tasks like text editing that require constant precise adjustments while typing, it feels far more natural to have a pointing device on the same plane as your keyboard. Mouse support in iPadOS is pretty rudimentary right now, but it’s already solid enough to make a difference in my workflow. I’ve been using my iPad Pro today with three separate tracking devices, and I think it’s a pretty good start, even if it doesn’t always work the way I’d want it to.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the cursor is huge — it’s a big semi-opaque circle with a dot in the middle. This is probably because as a touch-first operating system, iOS is designed for fingerprint-sized input, but I’d appreciate the option just to have the small dot anyway. The upside of the large cursor is that it helps you conceptualize how iPadOS’s mouse support works at the most basic level: it’s really just giving you a virtual finger.

Clicking the mouse does the same thing as tapping the screen, in other words, which means you’ll have to get used to some different gestures. There’s also no concept of right-clicking in iPadOS, of course, but by default the right mouse button is set to bring up a customizable menu of shortcuts. It’s a lot more convenient to right-click and click the Control Center icon than it is to move the cursor to the top-right corner of the screen and drag downward, for instance. Other mouse buttons are also reassignable; by default clicking in the scroll wheel will take you back to the home screen.

Dealing with iPadOS gestures can be tricky with a mouse

This is useful, because dealing with iPadOS gestures can be tricky with a mouse. I’ve only had a day’s practice, granted, but it doesn’t feel super natural to drag the dock up from the bottom of the screen or swipe between apps. On the other hand, things like text selection feel far better with a mouse than they ever have with a finger. Apple has made improvements in this area for iPadOS, but those improvements make even more sense with a separate pointing device.

And if, like me, you’re one of the probably 37 people in the world who ever uses their iPad Pro with an external USB-C monitor, the mouse feature is a total game changer. iPad monitor support doesn’t do much more than mirror the display, which meant that previously there was no way to interact with anything while you were actually looking at the monitor — you’d have to look down to the iPad itself to use touch. Now, though, I can use my iPad Pro at a comfortable eye level on my desk. It’s what I’m doing now. It’s great!

It’s also something I won’t do very often, because I have a MacBook Pro next to me and it makes a lot more sense to use that at my desk most of the time. But it’s cool that it’s even possible. If you use your iPad Pro as your primary computer, particularly if you do a lot of writing or text editing, the new iPadOS mouse support is definitely worth looking into.