You’ll probably admit at some point, the Universal Control demo at the Apple WWDC 2021 keynote was incredibly cool. I have to say it is the sort of stuff that I had often thought about, but never really said it, albeit not risk sounding obtuse. But Apple has done it. With macOS Monterey and iPadOS 15, you will be able to use your Mac’s mouse or trackpad to control another adjacent Mac or iPad, seamlessly moving the cursor from one device to the other by simply sliding the mouse on the mousepad or sliding your finger over on the trackpad. And that isn’t all. Apart from the full functionality becoming of a Mac or an iPad, you’ll actually be able to drag and drop files across devices. This should prove to be great news for those who work with a MacBook or an iMac as well as an iPad, side by side.
Universal Control, as the feature is called, will mean that you’ll not have to actually move your hands from one keyboard or trackpad or mouse to another, while multitasking. With one Mac keyboard, mouse or trackpad, you’ll be able to also control the functionality and apps on another Mac as well as iPad. Apple did show how dragging and dropping of files from one device to another worked—in this case, Craig Federighi dragged something from ProCreate on the iPad Pro to the Final Cut timeline on an iMac, across a MacBook Pro sitting in the middle of all that, lending its keyboard and trackpad for this awesomeness. While everything was silky smooth during the demo, it remains to be seen how smooth the file drag-and-drop functionality will be in the real world, particularly for slightly heavier files.
Apple has confirmed that at launch, Universal Control will work only with three devices virtually chained together as one—and that could be any combination as long as there is a Mac that is the lead device. But which Macs and which iPads will support Universal Control, you ask? We knew you would! The compatibility list for the Universal Controls for Macs reads as follows: MacBook Pro (2016 and later), MacBook (2016 and later), MacBook Air (2018 and later), iMac (2017 and later), iMac (5K Retina 27-inch, Late 2015), Mac mini (2018 and later), iMac Pro and Mac Pro 2019. For the Apple iPad line, the devices that will support Universal Control are the Apple iPad Pro, iPad Air (3rd generation and later), iPad (6th generation and later), and iPad mini (5th generation and later).
But before you begin to imagine absolute chaos in offices as people drag their cursors into the Mac’s of colleagues sitting next to them, important to note that you’ll need to have signed in with the same Apple iCloud ID for Universal Control to work on Macs and iPads you own. Once this is done, you’ll need to toggle Universal Control to On in the Settings for each Mac or iPad you want to work in conjunction with another. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth as well as Handoff need to be turned on all devices that need to be part of the Universal Control bunch.
Do Windows 10 PCs have something similar? The answer is two-pronged. Built into Windows 10, no. There are third party programs though, such as Logitech’s Flow and Synergy. Both of these are paid applications, and require additional software to be installed, Apple Universal Control is built into macOS and iPadOS. The Synergy solution is priced at $29 and $39, depending on which version you need. Secondly, there are specific hardware requirements. Logitech Flow, for instance, needs specific Logitech branded keyboard and mice, for multi-device support to work—such as the MX Master 3 mouse. While these solutions do work, they are often not as seamless as something that is built-in would be.
It was quite relaxing in a way to see how Universal Control worked, as Craig Federighi simply bought an iPad and an iMac close to a MacBook Pro and jumped from one device to the other without every taking his hands off the MacBook Pro keyboard. The dream of seamless computing, the dream of multi-device compatibility and the convenience of having different platforms come together without any hitched. While I cannot wait to get started with Universal Control later this year, it does leave me with one thought—will the Windows and Android ecosystems, ever come close to this potential of seamlessness?