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Universal Control is finally here, and it’s blown my mind

They say good things come to those who wait, and we’ve had a hell of a wait for Apple’s Universal Control to roll out.

In case you missed it, Apple touted Universal Control at its WWDC 2021 conference as a feature that lets you control several connected Apple devices — an iPad, a MacBook Air, and an iMac, for example — with just one mouse and keyboard. You just place your devices next to each other, then move your pointer to the edge of one screen and it “bursts through” onto the next one, enabling you to copy files between them or type on one Mac with a different Mac’s keyboard.

And now, it’s finally come out in beta on MacOS Monterey, so of course I decided to take it for a spin. And, despite some teething problems, it was even better than I’d hoped.

The wait was worth it

Moving a mouse from a Mac onto an iPad Air using Universal Control.
When you first move your mouse pointer onto an iPad, you’ll see this “wall” (left) appear, with the pointer trying to “burst through.” Keep pushing and you’ll be able to control both devices with a single mouse or trackpad. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Getting started was as easy as pie — mostly. Once my Mac Mini and iPad Air were updated to the MacOS Monterey 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4 betas, that was it. No further installation required, no tweaking of settings, nothing. Universal Control was just there, ready to go. As Apple is prone to say, it just works.

Sometimes, it took about a minute for my Mac and iPad to recognize each other and for Universal Control to kick in. That was especially true after my Mac had just woken from sleep. But the actual connection was automatic, so there was no need to pair my devices or click through a tedious wizard to get started.

And that’s a key point. Sure, KVM switches have existed for years, and they perform a similar task, allowing you to control several computers with one set of inputs. But they’re complicated to set up and look daunting. They’re not a mainstream solution. Universal Control is the complete opposite. It’s baked in from the start and requires no configuration. It’s so simple that anyone can use it.

Holy wow Universal Control is incredible.

This is me moving between a MacBook Pro, an iPad mini, and an iPad Pro using just the MacBook trackpad and keyboard. It's aware of position, lets you drag files, and supports iPadOS gestures.

The hype was real and it all just works 🤯

— Federico Viticci (@viticci) January 27, 2022

But its benefits extend beyond simplicity — it’s actually exciting to use. The first time I dragged a photo from my Mac directly into a Notes document on my iPad, I felt genuinely giddy with delight. The process is so smooth and natural, it feels like it was always meant to be this way. It makes anything else seem backward and passé. Of course, I’ve now ruined my own expectations forever, but it was so worth it. From the outside, my enthusiasm might look like a classic case of Apple’s reality distortion field, but seriously, give it a try yourself. You’ll fall in love like I did.

Previously, I would transfer files between my devices using Dropbox or Apple’s own AirDrop, but they feel positively ridiculous compared to Universal Control. Why rummage around in Dropbox folders or albums in the Photos app when you can just move your files directly from one device into the app or location you need? Universal Control cuts out the friction entirely.

Plus, all this means you don’t need multiple keyboards, mice ,and trackpads for your multiple devices. Once you’ve moved the mouse pointer from one device to another, your keyboard automatically switches focus so you can use your iPad’s third-party keyboard case to type on an iMac, for example. It’s a great time-saver and perfect for productivity.

Something magical — when it works

A System Preferences window for configuring the Universal Control beta in MacOS Monterey.
You can change the orientation of your devices in System Preferences. It works most of the time, but there are some bugs. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Since Universal Control is still a beta, I ran into some problems. In fact, it didn’t work at all at first, but a quick restart of my Mac fixed that issue. Some people have reported Universal Control worked for them the first time, whereas others had to restart their iPad as well as their Mac. Your experience may vary.

Changing the device orientation — such as moving the iPad from the left of my Mac to the right — was buggy. Sometimes Universal Control noticed the new placement and flipped which side of the screen the “portal” to the other device was on, but it would take several minutes to do so. Sometimes it didn’t change at all. Luckily, there’s a new menu in System Preferences > Displays that lets you manually change the orientation. You can also change the vertical position of the devices relative to each other, so the mouse never appears in a weird place.

A System Preferences window for configuring the Universal Control beta in MacOS Monterey.
Universal Control has a few bugs, like this one where the two devices are on top of each other in System Preferences and cannot be realigned. Image used with permission by copyright holder

I also had issues with the connection seemingly dropping, which halted Universal Control in its tracks. Sometimes my iPad refused to appear in my Mac’s display settings, whereas other times the two devices were overlaid on top of each other. Both meant Universal Control didn’t work, at least temporarily.

Regardless of these minor hiccups, it’s clear Universal Control is the real deal. Apple’s ecosystem has always been strong, but this new feature is one of the best reasons yet to team your Mac or iPad up with another compatible Apple device. It’s also a great example of how when Apple gets something really right, it feels almost unbelievably good. I can’t wait until it’s out of beta — let’s just hope it doesn’t take another seven months.

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