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How to use Universal Control on a Mac/iPad
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Tech tips

Have a MacBook and an iPad? Use this new trick to control both at the same time

What is Universal Control for Apple devices? iOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 both ushered in a new era of Apple functionality.

Universal Control lets you use the keyboard, mouse, or trackpad of your Mac to control up to two other nearby Mac or iPad devices and work seamlessly between them. Tap or click here to turn your iPad into a full-fledged computer.

Yes, you read that right. You’ll finally be able to control multiple Apple gadgets with one single keyboard and mouse, up to three machines simultaneously. Here’s everything you need to do to get started.

How to Use Universal Control

Universal Control comes natively through a wholly updated system. Before getting started, make sure your devices are updated to iPadOS 15.4 or later and macOS Monterey 12.3 or later.

RELATED: 10 tips and tricks for your new iPad

To use Universal Control, you’ll need to set it up on all devices you would like to include. Begin with your Mac.

  • From the Apple menu, select System Preferences > Displays.
  • Tap the Universal Control button.
  • Select Allow your cursor and keyboard to move between any nearby Mac or iPad. Leave the other two settings selected for now.

The following two toggles after this one should stay on if you would like to be able to mouse into any of your connected displays. The automatic connection allows the system to pair continuously, even if disconnected briefly. You can customize your experience by enabling these options selectively if desired.

Repeat this process for any other Mac included in the mix. After doing so, you’ll also need to activate Universal Control on your iPad. Here’s how:

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Tap General, then AirPlay & Handoff.
  • Turn on Cursor and Keyboard.

From this point, you’ll be able to link each device together automatically. Unlock them all and have each device nearby. Follow these steps:

  • Put your devices near each other and make sure they’re awake and unlocked.
  • Use your mouse or trackpad to move the cursor past the left or right edge of your screen in the general direction of the iPad or other Mac, even if the other device is positioned below your screen. You can arrange your displays more precisely later.
  • As you move the cursor past the edge of the screen, the other device shows the cursor beginning to push through to its screen. To connect to that device, push the cursor all the way through.

Once a connection is established, you’ll be able to customize the array through your Mac’s System Preferences, just like you would with any other external display. You can see detailed steps from Apple here.

You can disable any of your connected displays through your Display settings, and you can drop them all at once using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Opt + Cmd + Del. Simple enough, right?

Universal Control System Requirements

This feature needs a compatible Mac using macOS Monterey 12.3 or later and a compatible iPad using iPadOS 15.4 or later. Here are additional requirements:

  • All devices must be signed in with the same Apple ID using two-factor authentication. Universal Control does not support Managed Apple IDs.
  • All devices need to be within 30 feet of each other and have Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Handoff turned on. 
  • Your iPad must not be sharing its cellular connection, and your Mac must not be sharing its internet connection.

Do you need a new MacBook to use Universal Control? Not exactly. The following devices are capable:

  • Any MacBook or MacBook Pro released after 2016
  • Any post-2018 MacBook Air or Mac mini
  • Any 2017 iMac, as well as any 2015 iMac with a 27-inch Retina 5k display
  • Mac Pros released after 2019
  • iMac Pro and Mac Studio

The same goes for the iPad that you use:

  • Any iPad Pro
  • A 6th generation iPad or later
  • A 3rd generation iPad Air or later
  • A 5th generation iPad mini or later

You’re ready to roll as long as you’ve met the requirements above and no device is outside of a 30-foot radius.

Why We Love Universal Control

You can drag, drop, type, and draw without borders using any gear listed above. There are so many reasons to incorporate Universal Control into your routine.

  • Universal Control improves CPU performance by taking some onus off your laptop or desktop.
  • Working across multiple apps becomes a breeze.
  • More screen space keeps everything available at a glance.
  • You’ll finally have something to do with your old iPad.
  • Expanded functionality bridges the gap where Sidecar may fall flat.

This last one is likely the question current Mac fanatics are most interested in hearing more about. What’s the difference between Universal Control and Sidecar, anyway?

Universal Control vs. Sidecar

Sidecar is an Apple-exclusive service that allows you to mirror or extend your computer’s display to a nearby iPad.

The main difference between Universal Control and Sidecar: Sidecar turns your iPad into a computer-dependent second display, whereas Universal Control allows it to act independently within the system in its own right.

You can shut down your laptop and continue to use Universal Control elsewhere. You can use the iPad as a touch screen or simply as your viewing interface, plain and simple. The difference feels small on paper, but trust us when we say that Universal Control is a significant upgrade from Sidecar.

Creative work, professional productivity, and even browsing for fun become so much more efficient and engaging through Universal Control. Now, you’re free to operate cross-functionally without limitation.

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