How to Use Universal Control With a Mac and iPad

The Universal Control feature has arrived with macOS 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4. Universal Control lets you combine your Mac and iPad into a unified system, controlled by a single keyboard and mouse with limited drag-and-drop features.

Universal Control Is Not Sidecar

Universal Control sounds a little like the old Sidecar feature, where an iPad could work as a wireless (or wired) second screen for your Mac. However, this is a very different feature. With Sidecar, your iPad acts as an external macOS display. None of the software is actually running on the iPad itself.

Related: How to Control Multiple PCs With One Keyboard Using Synergy

With Universal Control, each device operates independently, running its own software. The difference is that when you move your mouse to the iPad screen, the Mac sends your keyboard and mouse inputs to the iPad instead of using them in macOS. In this way, Universal Control acts as a software-based KVM switch. KVM switches are used to connect multiple computers to a single set of peripherals, so that one user can easily control all of them.

That’s not the only thing Universal Control does. It also allows you to move content between the Mac and iPad by simply dragging and dropping the items. As long as the two apps in question are compatible and support the feature, you can simply move items between the devices which use AirDrop technology in the background to transfer the data. Likewise, you can also copy and paste content between the Mac and iPad as if they were one computer.

The Benefits of Universal Control

Sidecar was an incredibly useful feature for Mac users who needed a portable dual-monitor system. For example, a MacBook Air and iPad Pro combination made it easy to have a word processor open on one screen and a web browser or PDF document on the other. That’s rather cramped when split on a single 13-inch screen!

Related: How to Use Multiple Monitors on Your Mac

The downside of this approach is that it wastes the iPad’s processing power and puts all of the strain on your Mac. With Universal Control, your iPad can handle the web browser, music steaming program, or whatever else you want to run on it, while the Mac handles your productivity software or heavy apps such as video editors.

It also means that you can easily move data between mobile apps and your Mac without having to buy a macOS version of the app if one even exists.

Universal Control Requirements

There’s very little setup involved in Universal Control, but you need the right combination of devices and software to make it work. First, your Mac must support macOS 12.3 (or newer) and your iPad must support iPadOS 15.4 (or newer).

According to Apple, at the time of writing in March 2022, these Macs are compatible with Universal Control:

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

These iPads are compatible with Universal Control:

  • iPad Pro (all models)
  • iPad (6th generation) or later
  • iPad Air (3rd generation) or later
  • iPad mini (5th generation) or later

It’s worth noting that Universal Control also works between two or more Macs, but at launch does not support a combination of two iPads without a Mac. In total Universal Control can work with up to three devices.

Assuming you have the right Mac, iPad, and operating systems versions, we need to perform a minor first-time setup.

Related: The Best MacBooks of 2023

Universal Control First-Time Setup

To use Universal Control, first make sure that all the devices you want to use are signed in to the same iCloud account. In this case, we’re using an M1 MacBook Air and a 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Once you’re sure that your devices are signed in to the same account, click the Apple button (top-left of the desktop) in macOS and then open “System Preferences”.

Universal Control Step 0

Under “System Preferences”, open “Displays”.┬áNow click on the “Universal Control” button.

Universal Control Step 1

Here you have three boxes that can be ticked.

Universal Control Step 2

The first two are necessary for Universal Control to work as intended. The first will let your cursor and keyboard move between nearby Macs and iPads if they’re signed into the same iCloud account. The second will let you push your cursor through the edge of a display to move it between the Mac and iPad.

The third option, auto-reconnect, is optional, but we recommend you choose it.

After ticking the boxes, click “Done”. You may then close the Display settings window.

Universal Control Step 3

Next, on the iPad, open Settings. Then go to the section labeled “General.”

Universal Control Step 4

Under General, tap on “AirPlay & Handoff.” Here, make sure that both “Handoff “and “Cursor and Keyboard” are toggled on. Now you’re ready to use Universal Control.

Universal Control Step 5

Using Universal Control

To start using Universal Control, simply push your mouse pointer against the edge of the macOS screen and you should see it push through to the iPad (or other Mac). If macOS has incorrectly detected the physical arrangement of your devices, you can go back to Display settings and manually drag the detected monitors into the right arrangement.

Universal Control Step 6

Now you can start using apps on all of your devices using just one keyboard and mouse set! Here are some things to try first:

  • Open Messages on your iPad and drag a photo from your Mac into a conversation.
  • Copy some text from a web page on your iPad and paste it into a word processor on your Mac.
  • Open the Files app on your iPad and drag a file onto your desktop. It may take a few seconds to copy depending on its size.

The best way to get to grips with Universal control is to simply use it. It’s all very intuitive, so much that we kept forgetting that the iPad was a different device!

Related: Everything You Can Do With the Files App on Your iPhone or iPad

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