Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast
Mouse Support for iPads
When Apple launched iPadOS and iOS 13 at their Fall iPhone event in 2019, they failed to mention a feature that a lot of people have been clamoring for—mouse support. The latest software updates have pushed the iPad closer and closer to being a genuine replacement for your laptop, so it only makes sense to offer up the ability to use a mouse with an iPad. However, it may not function in the way you'd expect, so here's a look at how to activate it and customize it to your liking.
Using a Mouse With an iPad
Apple has long resisted adding mouse support to the iPad. After all, the iPad is a touchscreen device and everything you do on an iPad is optimized for touch. Yet, not everyone uses an iPad in the same way. Not everyone is able to interact with an iPad using touch, so when Apple added mouse support for the iPad, it did so as an accessibility feature. That means is was designed to support people who could not physically interact with the device in the same way an able-bodied person would. This wasn't about mouse support per se—it was about trackball and joystick support for those who need additional accommodations in order to use an iPad.
That being said, accessibility options are for everyone. You can choose to use whatever accommodation you want whether it was designed to meet your specific needs or not. I don't say that in a selfish way; all I mean is that features that were designed for one specific group of people may well be adopted by another subset of people who will use them in a different way. Mouse support is one such feature.
How to Connect a Mouse to an iPad
The iPad can be controlled with a Bluetooth mouse or a USB mouse, (if you have the right adapter for your iPad), but it takes a little bit of time to set it up properly so that you can use it the way you want. Here's how to connect a mouse to your iPad in iPadOS 13 or later.
- Open the Settings app.
- Go to Accessibility > Touch > AssistiveTouch and turn on AssistiveTouch.
- Next, tap Devices, then plug in your USB mouse or tap Bluetooth Devices to pair your Bluetooth mouse.
- Once connected, the name of your mouse should appear in the Devices menu, and you will see a circular cursor appear on the screen.
If you tap on the name of your device, you will be able to select what happens when you press one of the buttons on your mouse. Each button that is recognized by your iPad is customizable. Left-click is probably one you want to leave as the default selection button (it does exactly what you would expect it to do), but consider your options for right-click and scroll wheel (middle button) clicks so that you can quickly navigate your iPad the way you want with a mouse.
How to Configure Your Mouse
By default, the mouse will probably not work exactly the way you want it, and part of the reason for that is that it is designed to replicate the functions of your finger on a screen. However, you can customize some of this to your liking, and the first thing you will probably want to do is turn off that black and white square that appeared on your screen when you turned on AssistiveTouch. You can do that by going to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > and turning off the option that says Always Show Menu.
Below that, you will see the option to adjust your tracking speed. The default setting is a little fast for most people, so drag that slider left or right until you get a speed that suits the way you use a mouse. You can test the sensitivity by sliding the bar and then moving your mouse around the screen to see how fast it moves.
Also in the AssistiveTouch menu is the option to choose a Pointer Style. Here you can adjust the size of your "cursor" as well as change the color and choose an auto-hide time for when your pointer is inactive. The default size could be a little larger than you might want, but this is all about personal preference, so it is great that you have the option to adjust this to your liking.
As far as scrolling goes, you are stuck with Apple's "Natural Scrolling" option. This is the default setting for new Macs, and it means that moving the scroll wheel towards you will make the page go up, while moving it away from you makes the page go down. This is the complete opposite of how I have my mouse configured on a laptop, but it is something you just get used to when using a mouse with your iPad. There is currently no option to change this.
The Best iPad Mouse
5. Tips for Using a Mouse With an iPad
- Unless you plan on using a mouse all the time, you may appreciate the ability to turn AssistiveTouch on and off as you need it. Thankfully, there is a quick way to do this. Simply open the Settings app, tap Accessibility, and then scroll all the way to the bottom until you find Accessibility Shortcut. Tap that and put a checkmark next to AssistiveTouch. The next time you want to use a mouse with your iPad, you can triple-click the home button (or the power button on an iPad Pro) to turn AssistiveTouch on and off.
- Another option to consider is the type of mouse you use. If you watched the video above, you will see that there are advantages to using certain types of Bluetooth mice. This largely comes down to the number of buttons a mouse has. The more buttons you have, the more customization options there are for controlling your iPad, so take some time to think about how much you will use a mouse, and consider getting one that will better fit your needs.
- Although you are most likely to use a mouse with your iPad, you can actually use the same method to do the same on your iPhone. You probably won't need a mouse pointer on your phone very often, but if you do, you can pair a mouse to any iPhone running iOS 13 or later.
- If you ever make screen recordings of your iOS device or find yourself explaining things to an audience on a projector, you will know that it is hard to show people what you are tapping on. If you turn on AssistiveTouch, you can use the cursor to ensure that everyone knows what you are doing on your device. Remember that you can adjust the size and color of your pointer to help it be more visible.
- If, like me, you spend a lot of your time browsing the web on your iPad, consider changing your right-click button to be a long press. For me, this is the most natural option when using a mouse on the iPad. It means you can right-click on a link and open it in a new tab or right-click an image to add it to your photos.
What Do You Think?
Are you using a mouse with your iPad? Do you have tips to share or a mouse to recommend? Maybe you have a question about how best to use a setup like this for your work. Share your thoughts, comments and experiences in the comments below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Jonathan Wylie