The coolest things you can do with Universal Control

Universal Control
Universal Control (Image credit: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore)

Universal Control is set to arrive this spring on supported Macs and iPads. The new feature makes it possible to use the same peripherals such as keyboards and mice across multiple Macs and iPads. Though Universal Control remains in beta, we've already uncovered some exciting ways to use the feature. It works on the best iPads and best Macs.

Apple occasionally offers updates to iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas. While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.

What is Universal Control?

First announced at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2021, Universal Control is only now available to developers and members of the Apple Public Beta program. On supported devices that are within 30 feet (10 meters) of one another, you can use the same keyboard, mice, and trackpad. However, you must be using at least one Mac for this to work. In other words, Universal Control works from Mac-to-Mac and iPad-to-Mac, but doesn't work iPad-to-iPad.

With Universal Control, both devices must be signed into the same Apple ID in iCloud and use two-factor authentication. The supported devices must have Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Handoff turned on to use the tool wirelessly. Additionally, iPad and Mac must not share a cellular and internet connection. Finally, you must trust your Mac on the iPad to use over USB. Universal Control works on Apple silicon and Intel-based Macs.

Cool things you can do with Universal Control

Universal Control has some apparent features, plus a few you might not have thought about until now, including those listed below.

Use immediately

Universal Control

Universal Control (Image credit: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore)

Apple has made it easy to get started with Universal Control. Assuming your software and hardware meet the requirements, it works seamlessly across the devices with no other setup. I can already see Apple creating a slick ad that highlights how Universal Control just works.

Link multiple devices with ease

Once you link a peripheral with Universal Control, it's there to use forever— assuming it's close to your supported devices and turned on! Looked another way, this means you can link multiple accessories to the same devices. This doesn't sound important until you recognize that many have offices in different locations. Additionally, in some households, the same Mac is being used by various people and in multiple places in the home.

Better still, Universal Control works with any peripheral with Bluetooth, not just those keyboards, mice, and trackpads from Apple.

Better use of space

Universal Control

Universal Control (Image credit: Apple)

For some users, Universal Control might sound a lot like Apple's Sidecar feature. However, while Sidecar focuses on extending or mirroring a Mac display on an iPad, Universal Control concentrates solely on the input devices.

In these early days of Universal Control, I've been taking advantage of this crucial difference by shifting how I use apps during my workday. For example, I no longer use Apple Music, Messages, and Slack from my MacBook Pro. Instead, the open apps are on my iPad. The result is a less cluttered desktop.

Move those files

Universal Control Use (trackpad example)

Universal Control Use (trackpad example) (Image credit: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore)

With Universal Control, you can freely drag and drop files such as images from one device to another. It's a slick tool. However, it comes with some restrictions. Forget, for example, moving files directly from the Mac to the iPad's Home screen as it's not possible. You can, however, move files from your Mac into supported apps such as images to the iPad Photos app or Microsoft Excel files into the Files app. In addition, when there are two Macs side-by-side, drag and drop feels much more familiar and is without restrictions.

More to come

As we continue to uncover new Universal Control features, we'll add them to this post. Meanwhile, developers and public beta members continue to test the feature. Universal Control should launch via software updates in the coming weeks for everyone else.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.