For months at this point, Apple has been basically teasing the public with the idea of trackpad and mouse support for iPadOS. It first came up in the form of an accessibility feature back in June of 2019 and as we rounded the corner into 2020, we began seeing 3rd party accessory makers like Brydge offer wireless keyboards with trackpads on them. Soon after, Apple’s own new magic keyboard for the new iPad Pros leaked out and were announced just over a week ago. Since then, iPad OS 13.4 has rolled out to everyone and along with it, real mouse and trackpad support for iPads.
Well, full mouse/trackpad support isn’t exactly here in the old school, classic sense. Instead, Apple has added its own support for an on-screen cursor and implemented it in a very Apple-esque sort of way. To be fair, there’s a lot I like about it already. We’ll drop the full explainer video Apple provided below, but the decision to move away from the more tried and true way of displaying a pointer on the screen is a smart move from Apple if you ask me.
After all, with a decade spent convincing users and developers that you don’t need a keyboard, pen, or mouse to get stuff done, Apple couldn’t exactly upend the entire OS just to add in mouse and trackpad support. So, in an ingenious way, they didn’t. Instead, the trackpad acts like a mixture of both touch and cursor input, melding to the task at hand, and serving to remind users that they aren’t magically on a desktop computer all of the sudden just because there’s a mouse cursor floating on the screen. This is still a touch-based experience and at its best when using it as such.
For me, though, the whole experience is a bit jarring. The gestures work well for getting around and everything is smooth as butter. But the tracking of the cursor is odd to me. There is a bit of inertia and the cursor continues to move ever so slightly after you stop your physical motion. While there’s no lag on either the Magic Trackpad 2 or the Logitech M355 I tested, this intertia ‘feature’ almost makes it feel like there is. And it makes the whole experience feel quite imprecise as well. You really need to try it to fully grasp it, but if you are expecting the raw precision of a standard mouse, that’s not what you’ll be getting.
Additionally, pairing up a more standard mouse is additionally disappointing. While the rubbery intertia is almost gone with this accessory, the ability to navigate the OS is gone along with it. I couldn’t find a way to get to my overview screen, switch apps, or even get home with the standard mouse. I’m using a Logitech K580 keyboard and none of the iPad-specific keys are here, so I suppose any non-iPad keyboard and standard mouse combo most definitely won’t work. Instead, it seem your only option when using a mouse in lieu of a trackpad is to pair up an iPad-specific keyboard in order to get around the OS.
Who’s this all for, then? I suppose it is geared for users who can get all their work done on the iPad already. If you are good with the file system, the browser options, and the apps on offer, this added trackpad feature should simply give you an additional way to get stuff done. However, if you were thinking the addition of a cursor and trackpad would turn an iPad into what amounts to a laptop, you’re going to be disappointed. And I don’t think that is what Apple intended anyway. This isn’t like adding touch support to a Mac or giving an iPad a full-blown desktop. It is somewhere between, somewhere a bit new, and a place where some users are going to find great delight and others only frustration.
Additionally, in the event you’re wondering if this makes an iPad some sort of Chromebook replacement, I’d caution you to check your expectations. Using the iPad for a few hours in this mode, I’ve already run into a slew of things I miss from a more standard desktop. I miss windowed apps. I miss precise mouse cursors. I miss a true desktop browser. So, for me, this is an attempt to make the iPad better for some users in some instances. It is not a Chromebook killer or replacement, and I’ll gladly be headed back to mine just as soon as this article is published.