With a press release published earlier today, Apple officially announced the fourth generation of its iPad Pro line. The new iPad Pro models – available, as with the current generation, in 11-inch and 12.9-inch flavors – feature the all-new A12Z Bionic chip, a new camera system that includes an ultra-wide camera and LiDAR scanner for augmented reality, and integration with a long-awaited accessory, which will become available starting in May: the new Magic Keyboard with trackpad.
These new iPads look pretty remarkable, but my attention was immediately drawn to that new Magic Keyboard accessory. Not only does it have a sweet floating design and an integrated USB-C port for charging, the keyboard is now backlit and, yes, it has a trackpad.
With iPadOS 13.4, Apple brings trackpad support to iPad, giving customers an all-new way to interact with their iPad. Rather than copying the experience from macOS, trackpad support has been completely reimagined for iPad. As users move their finger across the trackpad, the pointer elegantly transforms to highlight user interface elements. Multi-Touch gestures on the trackpad make it fast and easy to navigate the entire system without users ever lifting their hand.
Because this enhanced trackpad and mouse support is an iPadOS feature, I was able to try it out with my current iPad. I don’t have a spare trackpad laying around, but I do have an unused Magic Mouse. So I connected my mouse to my iPad — that is a very weird phrase to write. And you know what? It works very well.
Apple’s description of how the cursor works is a bit of an exaggeration; I don’t necessarily buy that this is a “complete reimagining”, but it is a thoughtful interpretation. The cursor — normally round, like a finger’s touch area — transforms a lot more smoothly than in MacOS, and the animation for highlighting UI elements is extremely nice. Using a mouse means less capability than a trackpad, but there are very few shortcomings. Gestures are now widely supported, so you can swipe with a finger to archive a message in Mail, for example. The main one I’ve spotted is that there doesn’t appear to be a way to dismiss a Slide Over app. By design, using the app switcher to go to a different app will allow the Slide Over app to remain floating overtop with its massive shadow obscuring anything underneath and giving the impression that it is still the focused app. But you can always lift your hand off the mouse and swipe it away.
There also doesn’t appear to be a way to map a secondary Magic Mouse click but, as with MacOS, you can control-click to reveal a contextual menu. Update: It turns out it’s under General settings, Trackpad and Mouse, and then Secondary Click. My mistake.
This sort of stuff makes the iPad ridiculously flexible. It doesn’t mean that all of the system’s awkward limitations and multitasking weirdness — see above, with regards to the Slide Over app — have suddenly been remedied. But it allows for more powerful uses of the iPad more of the time, and I like it a lot.
Apple says that iPadOS 13.4 with trackpad and mouse support will ship on Tuesday, and the new iPad Pro models will be available in stores next Friday. Given the current pandemic, I expect availability will be pretty limited, but you can be certain Apple’s own stores will have lots of stock. Be sure to check it out at your nearest open location.