I tried Apple’s Universal Control feature for Mac and iPad, and it’s magic

My computer setup no longer looks like it did before the pandemic. I’m always in front of two screens to improve productivity and work faster. As a writer, my job is not just about writing a story, it’s also about managing the technical page when needed and editing copies. Apple seems to have figured out who the target audience is for its Universal Control, a brand new feature it first demonstrated at last year’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). The feature, although not yet available to consumers*, is available as part of the beta of iPadOS 15.4 and macOS 12.3. I tested the feature with a MacBook Air M1 and an iPad mini 6 for a few days, and here are my first impressions of Universal Control.

What is Universal Control?

Universal Control is designed to allow iPad and Mac users to operate both devices with a single keyboard and mouse/trackpad. With this feature, the iPad easily becomes an extension of your current setup. It can be activated via Attach > Advanced within the System Preferences interface on Mac, while iPad users can enable Universal Control via the new Cursor and Keyboard section in AirPlay and transfer settings.

apple, apple universal control, what is universal control, how to use apple universal control, universal control review Universal Control works with up to three devices. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Why do I use Universal Control?

I too wondered why I would want to use Apple’s new Universal Control feature. For me, however, adding a secondary monitor to my computer screen requires too many steps – while this setup works to some extent, small delays hamper my productivity. I’m not against the concept of having a secondary monitor paired with my main computer, but it’s a perfect solution.

Universal Control fixes persistent issues I’ve had with two monitor setups. If you live in the Apple ecosystem and own an iPad and a Mac, Universal Control works seamlessly. Connecting the two devices was as easy as downloading an app from the App Store. It took a few seconds for the two devices to pair and establish a connection. No special cables are required! All I did was update my iPad mini 6 and M1 MacBook Air to the latest iPadOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 betas, and the feature was enabled by default.

apple, apple universal control, what is universal control, how to use apple universal control, universal control review Universal Control will work as soon as you place your iPad next to the Mac. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

How I use Universal Control to my advantage

Once the setup was complete, I tried Universal Control in the real world. The idea was simply to observe how two different devices with different use cases – iPad and Mac can provide a singular experience and improve my productivity and improve my working environment. I was an instant convert.

Before Universal Control, I used my iPad and Mac for different purposes and was happy. But Universal Control has changed my perception of how these two independent devices can be connected together and become part of my daily workflow with minimal effort. The feature meets the needs of users who want to control the iPad and Mac using a mouse, keyboard, and/or trackpad. This is actually possible through iCloud, which controls cursor activity.

Using the MacBook Air’s trackpad, switching between screens is simply seamless. I could drag an image stored on my iPad and drop it into the Notes app on the MacBook Air smoothly. Previously, I used AirDrop to share a file from one Apple device to another, but Universal Control eliminates this step completely. Draw a sketch on the iPad, which I do frequently, and once it’s done, just drag and drop it into your Mac and use it in Apple’s Mail app or whatever program. The drag & drop of a text is also possible, provided that the application is open on the iPad. You can also drag images from an iPad and drop them onto your Mac desktop screen, but it’s not yet possible to drop something onto the iPad home screen, which I wish I could change in the future. However, drag and drop from apps like Twitter and Linkedin is not possible.

As I observed in my testing, the two-finger gesture using the MacBook Air’s trackpad works well with some apps like opening a webpage on Google Chrome and Docs. However, I couldn’t use two finger gestures on Amazon and Linkedin. I understand, it’s beta software.

apple, apple universal control, what is universal control, how to use apple universal control, universal control review For those who want to use their iPad as a permanent part of the work setup, Universal Control gives you the ability to permanently connect your devices together. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

One thing I liked about Universal Control is how I can use the MacBook Air keyboard to type on the iPad. So now, while writing an article on the iPad, the screen of the MacBook Air next to it can be used to chat with a colleague on the WhatsApp web or the screen displays the latest news on indianexpress.com. The simplicity of Universal Control made the iPad mini 6 more useful. Before this feature, I had to choose either the iPad or the MacBook Air. With Universal Control, the iPad takes center stage and becomes more than an extension of the Mac, showing the charm of the Apple ecosystem and Cupertino’s ability to connect its devices to each other.

The mouse has been optimized for devices. I used the Asus MD100, a regular Bluetooth mouse paired with my iPad mini, and once connected it would immediately change from a dot to an arrow. The cursor model, which is already used in iPadOS and macOS, remains the same.

I tried different combinations of devices and incorporated them into my office setup. The combination of iPad and Mac solves a unique use case, and I think it deserves your attention. Instead of buying an expensive monitor that can rotate 90 degrees, with Universal Control I can use the iPad in landscape or portrait orientation. After using it a bit, using the iPad in portrait mode is a neat trick and probably beneficial for some users like news editors. I just didn’t find a ton of real-world applications there. But yeah, it’s great for reading news articles and PDFs.

apple, apple universal control, what is universal control, how to use apple universal control, universal control review The iPad mini 6 and MacBook Air are an important part of my office setup. (Image credit: Anuj Bhatia/Indian Express)

Why Universal Control impressed me

Universal Control, to me, is more than a tool that allows iPads and Macs to communicate with each other and can be controlled by the same mouse and keyboard. I think the Universal Control idea works because it’s so easy to move between the two devices, like it’s a single computer. The fact that the devices integrate seamlessly and without complicated setup or extra steps is a big win for Apple. Some may find Universal Control just another feature, but I have to tell you that it’s more than just dragging and dropping text or an image from one device to another. I’m still learning about Universal Control and I’ll do an in-depth post soon highlighting other features I haven’t fully explored yet.

*Apple will release iOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 for all users later this week.