In the 2021 WWDC (worldwide developer conference) Apple had last spring, a new Mac/iPad feature was announced: Universal Control. The feature was set to come about a year later and has already been seen in the last betas for iPadOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3, but Apple hasn’t officially confirmed yet when the update will be available to the public.
Universal control is basically as its name suggests; a singular control point with a mouse and keyboard that control multiple devices. This feature will give a new and wireless way to control multiple Macs and/or iPads without the need for any adaptors or cables. It also isn’t replacing Sidecar, which will stay an option to choose from.
After downloading the update or beta, Universal Control is automatically activated. If for some reason it’s not, first make sure that your iCloud account is connected on all devices, and go to System Preferences on your Mac. Then open Displays -> Display Settings -> Advanced, and you will find the following:
If you use Universal control on a frequent basis, toggle the automatically reconnect button to reconnect to your setup quickly.
For iPad, go to Settings -> General -> AirPlay & Handoff, and from there you can change it to your preferences.
To use Universal Control, simply place an iPad or a Mac near another one, drag your cursor to the side of the device with the mouse/trackpad, and the system will detect where it should appear on the other device. The feature supports up to three devices on a single connection and has support for all macOS 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4 compatible Macs and iPads.
Universal Control vs. Sidecar
So, what can you do with Universal Control compared to Sidecar? for starters, the extended device isn’t the only one that can control the system. In Sidecar, the iPad is only a mirror or an extension to the mac, while with Universal Control you can use iPad apps, access files on the other device, and you preserve the touch capacity with the windows you moved from the Mac to the iPad. Also, you can move files from one device to the other, even if there is a third between them.
When using multiple devices, you can easily move files between them. There’s no need to copy/paste or transfer via AirDrop; just drag any file onto the device of your choice. You will also be able to see all apps open on each device and switch between them without having to go through the dock or application switcher.
If you want to use an app on one device that isn’t open on the other, just open it as usual and it will automatically appear on the other device. This also works with app windows; if you have two Safari windows open on different devices, drag one of them to the side of your screen and it will open.
The benefits Universal Control gives are the potential savings on a smart keyboard to the iPad, the ability to use touch and pencil on Mac apps, and quickly moving files between devices. When Apple will decide to finally release the update, it will turn the iPad, which is already the best-selling tablet on the market, into the perfect companion to your Mac (or, alternatively, convince you to buy one).
Universal Control is an amazing new feature that will make our lives so much easier. With just a mouse and keyboard, we can now control multiple devices without any adaptors or cables. We can easily move files between them, and even if an app isn’t open on one of the devices, we can just open it as usual and it will automatically appear on that device. This is one of the features that will bring technology another step forward and bridge the way to a better, more unified useability.