It would seem that iPads will soon have proper mouse support. No, I’m not talking about the accessibility feature that is there in iPad OS 13 currently. Instead, I’m referring to a new feature spotted by 9to5 Mac that is internally being identified as ‘rich system-wide support’ for mouse cursors in iPad OS 14. Though the current setup gives users a large circle on screen that can be controlled with a mouse, it merely acts as an extension of the user’s fingertip and doesn’t currently behave the way you’d expect from a mouse.
According to 9to5 Mac, the changes will bring most of the desktop cursors you see in Mac OS and will also allow for things like 2-finger click as a right-click. The cursors will also do things we’ve all become accustomed to, like changing state when hovering a clickable object. No word on other gestures currently, but I could see things like a multi-finger swipe up for multitasking being included as well. The imminent arrival of a keyboard cover for the upcoming iPads with a trackpad on board lends a ton a credence to these finds from 9to5 Mac.
What’s the impact?
The question surely becomes, “How might this impact Chromebooks?” And, I think there are legitimate concerns, here. First up, the general consumer whose behaviors might be simple enough for them to consider an iPad as their only computer might have been put off by the iPad’s touch-only method of input and instead been intrigued by a Chromebook. Those types of users might, then, decide to instead stick with an iPad now that a mouse and keyboard are going to be part of the experience.
Much will come down to how well iPad OS handles all this. After all, you have an OS that was built from the ground up around touch input and now they are bolting on mouse support. Will developers react fast? Will an admittedly great gesture-based UI know what to do when a mouse cursor is the driver instead of a fingertip?
It’s impossible to answer those things, but if they aren’t done really well, the whole thing feels odd and a bit anti-Apple, honestly. I mean, Apple still holds to the idea that Mac OS and the Macbooks it powers wouldn’t benefit from a simple touchscreen and touch-enabled UI. So, then, the question really becomes: do I think an iPad with a folio keyboard/trackpad is a replacement for a Chromebook? No, but I also know a ton of people who wouldn’t be able to make that distinction on their own.
Apple is a marketing powerhouse and perception is reality. With that in mind, whether I think all this is a threat to Chromebooks or not, there will be folks who buy what they know. And people know Apple. So, on one hand, perhaps this eats into Chromebook territory a bit, but only if it is available on the entry-level iPad. If this is held out for the Pro devices only, I think there will be absolutely no impact on Chromebook sales as a result of the change.
From another perspective, it is highly likely Google has known this was coming, so they have been tirelessly working on making Chrome OS far better as a tablet OS in the past year. We haven’t seen a bunch of new tablets since the Pixel Slate mess and thus, Chrome OS has been transforming as a tablet OS under our noses without making a big fuss about it. But, in our recent article about new features arriving on Chrome OS for tablets, its clear Google isn’t asleep at the wheel and the upcoming Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook will be the prime benefactor of that work.
With its included keyboard/trackpad, beautiful design, and crazy-low price of $279 with everything in the box, Apple doesn’t have anything close to competing with it at that sort of price. Chrome OS has become a fun OS on a tablet, and with all the changes coming by the time the Duet ships, I suspect using that device as a tablet will be a wildly different and substantially better experience than the Pixel Slate was able to deliver. If it all falls into place, then Apple’s new iPad feature may end up being known as the catalyst that pushed Google to really clean up tablet mode on Chrome OS. After all, competition spurs development, right?