Apple introduced Universal Control at WWDC 2021, exciting Mac and iPad users with the possibilities it would bring to their daily workflows. A year later, as part of the latest macOS and iPadOS releases – macOS 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4 – Universal Control is finally live and available to Mac users.

universal control on mac and ipad
IMAGE: Harris Vo (Unsplash)

As the name suggests, Universal Control allows you to control multiple Apple devices connected to a Mac with a single keyboard and mouse/trackpad. This makes it easier to work with multiple devices on your desktop and eliminates the need for multiple keyboards and mice.

If you own a Mac and an iPad and your daily workflow is spread across both devices, Universal Control can prove to be a valuable feature. Below, we will introduce Universal Control and show you how to use Universal Control with your Mac and iPad.

What is Universal Control?

Universal Control is a macOS feature that unlocks the ability to control iPad and Mac, linked together, using the same keyboard and mouse. It lets you connect an iPad or another Mac to your main Mac and work across all of them without needing another pair of keyboards and mice.

For instance, with Universal Control, you can link an iPad and a MacBook together and use the MacBook’s keyboard to input text into apps like Notes, Safari, etc., on the iPad; or use its trackpad to navigate the iPad’s screen.

Besides inputting text and navigating the iPad, Universal Control also lets you drag and drop files between devices, granted the apps support drag-and-drop and the file type. Similarly, you can also use the Universal Clipboard feature to copy text from one device and paste it on another.

Universal Control Compatible Devices

Universal Control works with Macs and iPads. It requires you to have at least one Mac in your setup, with as many iPads and other Macs linked to it.

Here’s a list of all the Mac and iPad models compatible with Universal Control.

Universal Control Compatible Mac Models

  • MacBook Pro (2016 or later)
  • MacBook (2016 or later)
  • MacBook Air (2018 or later)
  • iMac (2017 or later)
  • iMac (5K Retina 27-inch, Late 2015)
  • iMac Pro, Mac mini (2018 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2019)

Universal Control Compatible iPad Models

  • iPad Pro (all models)
  • iPad (6th generation and later)
  • iPad mini (5th generation and later)

Universal Control vs Sidecar

Universal Control is a system feature that links a Mac and iPad together—letting you use them side-by-side—and allows you to control them with a single keyboard and mouse. It’s kind of similar to Barrier, a KVM software that lets you control multiple computers with one keyboard and mouse.

universal control
IMAGE: Apple

With Universal Control, you can, for instance, have a MacBook Pro, along with a couple of iPads kept on either of its sides, on your desk, wherein you can use the MacBook’s trackpad and keyboard to work on the iPads by swiping to either side of the screen.

Other areas where Universal Control can come in handy include the ability to move items using drag-and-drop, copy-paste items between devices, and gesture support for easy navigation.

Sidecar, on the other hand, is a relatively old feature. It enables you to use your iPad as a second display for your Mac. To do so, you can either mirror your Mac’s display or extend it to the iPad for more screen estate. Unlike Universal Control, Sidecar only allows you to use one iPad on a Mac and is quite limited in terms of functionality.

IMAGE: Apple

To put it simply, you use Sidecar when you want to view Mac’s content on another display, whereas you use Universal Control when you want to work on your Mac and iPad simultaneously with one keyboard and mouse.

How to Enable Universal Control

Universal Control has a few other requirements aside from a compatible device. These include:

  • Macs and iPads running macOS Monterey 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4, respectively
  • Devices you plan to use Universal Control on signed in to the same Apple ID/iCloud account
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled on all devices (devices shouldn’t be sharing the same cellular connection, i.e., hotspot/tethering must be disabled)
  • Handoff enabled on all devices

Follow these steps to enable Handoff on your Mac and iPad, if it’s disabled:

  1. On iPad: Go to Settings > General > AirPlay & Handoff. Toggle on the button for Handoff. Also, make sure the Cursor and Keyboard (Beta) option is enabled.
    enable handoff on ipad
  2. On Mac: Open System Preferences and go to General. Tick the checkbox next to Allow Handoff between this Mac and your iCloud devices.
    enable handoff on mac

When you’ve covered these bases, go ahead and turn on Universal Control using these steps:

  1. Go to your Mac’s Display Preferences. (Open System Preferences and click on Displays. Or tap on the Control Center icon in the menu bar and go into Display > Display Preferences.)
    enable universal control on mac
  2. Click on the Universal Control button.
  3. Check off the checkbox next to Allow your cursor and keyboards to move between any nearby Mac or iPad to enable Universal Control.
    enable universal control on mac

As soon as you do this, it will also enable the other two options. If you’d like to disable any of them, untick the checkbox next to them and hit Done. For instance, if you don’t want your Mac to automatically reconnect to your iPad or another Mac when it’s nearby, you can disable the Automatically reconnect to any nearby Mac or iPad option.

How to Connect Mac and iPad Using Universal Control

With Universal Control enabled, you can now link your Mac and iPad and start sharing the same keyboard and mouse between them. Here are the instructions you need to follow:

  1. Bring your iPad close (within 10 meters/30 feet) to your Mac and place it on either of its sides. Make sure they are awake, i.e., the screen is unlocked.
  2. Head over to your Mac’s Display Preferences. (Either open System Preferences and select Display or click on the Control Center icon in the menu bar, tap on Display, and select Display Preferences.)
    linking devices over universal control
  3. Click on the Add Display dropdown button and select your iPad from the list under Link Keyboard and Mouse.
    linking devices over universal control
  4. Use the trackpad or mouse connected to your Mac and drag the cursor all the way to the left or the right edge, whichever side the iPad is on.
  5. When a vertical bar appears along the edge of Mac’s display, drag the cursor past the edge to the iPad screen.
    universal control in action
    IMAGE: Apple

Using Devices Linked Over Universal Control

At this point, you should’ve linked your Mac and iPad, and a dot, indicating the cursor, should appear on the iPad screen.

You can now use the mouse/trackpad of your Mac to navigate the iPad screen. Do note; however, that scrolling isn’t supported on many third-party mice, so you’ll have to use arrow keys on your keyboard to move through a list.

Similarly, you can use your Mac’s keyboard to type text in an app on the iPad. To do this, make sure the dot cursor is on the iPad screen, and then click on the text field and type out your text using the keyboard.

Universal Control Gestures to Simplify Navigation

When you move the cursor over to the iPad, there are a bunch of trackpad gestures you can use to navigate around the iPad’s screen. However, if you’re using a third-party mouse, you can’t use them.

Instead, you’ll need to use the following gestures to perform a lot of basic navigation actions on your iPad:

  • Open search: While on the Home screen, scroll down using the trackpad or mouse.
  • Open Notification Center: Tap on the time and date in the upper-left corner of the screen.
  • Open Control Center: Click the status icon in the upper-right corner.
  • Open App Switcher: While on the Home screen, move the cursor to the bottom of the screen and push it down even further. Or, click and hold on the app switcher tab and bring it to the center of the screen.
  • Go to Home screen: While on an app, move the cursor to the app switcher bar and push it even further. Or, click and hold on the app switcher tab and perform an upward flick action.
  • Open Dock: While on an app, move the cursor to the bottom of the screen.

Arrange Your Displays

If you want to change the arrangement of your linked iPad or Mac with respect to your main Mac, you can do so from your Mac’s Display Preferences.

For this, make sure the devices are linked with Universal Control and go to the Display Preferences on your Mac. Then, click on the connected iPad or Mac screen and move it around the main Mac in your setup.

arrange displays in universal control

Disconnect Devices From Universal Control

When you’re done using your iPad or Mac in Universal Control, you can disconnect a connected device in any of the following ways:

  1. Click on the Display icon in the menu bar and tap on your iPad/Mac under Link keyboard and mouse to.
    disconnect device from universal control
  2. Go into Display Preferences on your Mac and tap on Display Settings. Here, select your iPad/Mac in the left pane and click the Disconnect button to disconnect your linked iPad/Mac.
    disconnect device from universal control

Universal Control Not Working? Troubleshoot the Issue

If, for some reason, even after following the instructions in this guide you’re still unable to link devices over Universal Control, you can troubleshoot it with these solutions:

  1. Restart the Mac and the devices (iPad or Mac) you wish to link to it over Universal Control.
  2. Disable Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Handoff on all the devices and re-enable them.
  3. Disable Universal Control and enable it again. (In the Display Preferences, click on the Universal Control button, and uncheck the Allow your cursor and keyboard to move between any nearby Mac or iPad option. Then, check it off again to enable Universal Control.)

Easily Share Your Mac’s Keyboard and Mouse With Other iPad or Mac

Universal Control makes it extremely easy to share your Mac’s keyboard and mouse with an iPad or another Mac, so you can control multiple devices without needing separate peripherals for them at your desk. This guide should help you get started with Universal Control. And subsequently, you should be able to use it more effectively and get the most out of the feature while multitasking between your Mac and iPad.

At the time of writing this guide, while Universal Control is live, it’s still in Beta, so you might experience some issues when, say, you’re linking the devices, copying text, or dragging-and-dropping files.

FAQs About Using Universal Control on Mac and iPad

Yes, Universal Control works with third-party keyboards and mice. However, it's important to note that these mice will require you to use different gestures to perform navigation operations on the iPad. We've covered these gestures in the guide above.

No, Universal Control is an iPad- and- Mac-only feature. It isn't available for the iPhone, so you won't be able to share a single keyboard and mouse to interact with your iPhone.

No, Universal Control isn't supported on all iPads. It's only available on the following iPad models:

  • iPad Pro (all models)
  • iPad (6th generation and later)
  • iPad mini (5th generation and later)

Yes, you can use Universal Control with two Mac. For this, similar to how you link an iPad to your main Mac, you need to, first, enable Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Handoff, and Universal Control on your Mac and bring it close to your main Mac.

After this, you can slide over the mouse cursor to the edge—where you've placed the other Mac—and push it past the edge to get it over to the iPad's screen. Once there, you can control the other Mac using the same mouse. Plus, you can also use your keyboard to input text and drag-and-drop items between the two Macs.

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