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These clever features paved the way for Universal Control

Universal Control is one of the best things about Apple’s ecosystem. It allows you to seamlessly use two or more Apple products with a single input device, whether that means dragging files across devices or typing on both with one keyboard. It works like magic, but as a recent interview suggests, Apple was secretly laying the groundwork for years.

Speaking to AppStories, Apple’s Vivek Bhardwaj described how Universal Control is a natural progression of some other key Apple features, including AirDrop, Handoff, and Sidecar. These tools were the “building blocks” of Universal Control, said Bhardwaj, providing a foundation for Apple to extend their capabilities.

Apple demonstrating Universal Control with a MacBook Pro and iPad next to each other on a desk.

“When you think of technologies like Bluetooth low-energy, know where devices are, all of these low-level technologies, as well as kind of this Handoff experience, Universal Control is really just the next step for continuity,” Bhardwaj explained.

If you’re unfamiliar, AirDrop lets you quickly share files between two Apple devices without resorting to email or messaging apps. With Handoff, meanwhile, you can start work on one device and instantly pick it up on another by simply opening the relevant app, while Sidecar essentially turns an iPad into a second screen for a Mac (or into a drawing pad if you have an Apple Pencil).

Once Apple had those technologies nailed down, it was able to move on to something even better — in this case, Universal Control. It’s an apt demonstration of how Apple builds its devices to work together in pretty seamless ways.

Bhardwaj went on to outline Apple’s thinking when creating the Universal Control system: “We designed Universal Control with Mac and iPad in mind. So think of it more of pairing these two devices together and then taking full advantage. Lots of Mac users have an iPad, so extending this capability to them is a really powerful experience.”

While that may be the case, you can actually use Universal Control between up to three Macs at once if you like, without requiring an iPad to be present. In that instance, it works like a built-in KVM switch, except one that doesn’t require any fiddly setup. You can’t use it to control an iPhone, though.

Still, it’s easily one of our favorite features in MacOS Monterey and iPadOS 15, and it shows how Apple’s tight-knit ecosystem can create some pretty amazing experiences.

Alex Blake
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