How to use Universal Control to access your iPad and its files from MacOS

Use Universal Controls to control multiple iPad or Mac devices from a single host Mac by adding an additional display to MacOS 12.3. Easily drag and drop to share files, text and more.

Photo: Apple

This article has been updated since it was released from Universal Control Beta.

When Apple unveiled MacOS Monterey at the WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference) in June 2021, they showed off a feature called Universal Control. This feature allows multiple macOS and iPadOS devices to be simultaneously controlled by each other – essentially a wireless KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) controller for macOS and iOS, similar to products offered by Synergy; However, this functionality has never been available across iPadOS and macOS before.

See: Apple Silicon M1 Mac Buying Guide: 2021 iMac vs 2020 MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro vs Mac mini (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Enabling Universal Control, you can use a single keyboard and mouse to control the screen of other connected devices, regardless of Mac or iPad. Do you have a file on your iPad? Hover the mouse over the iPad, then drag the file from the iPad to the Mac using the same input device.

When macOS Monterey was released to the public in the fall of 2021, the Universal Control feature was significantly missing; However, Apple has mentioned that it will be released in the future.

That time Apple now released the final version of MacOS 12.3 and iOS 15.4 which added this functionality to MacOS and iPadOS, allowing you to finally control your iPad from your Mac (or multiple iPads and Macs) and vice versa. In this tutorial, we will continue to set up this functionality.

To enable Universal Control, you must run macOS 12.3 on your Mac device and iPadOS 15.4 on your iPad device. Once you have them installed, you can then go to System Preferences Displays the preferences pane for configuration (available from the Apple menu | System Preferences | Display).

As of this writing, the following Mac and iPad devices are compatible with Universal Control when running the latest MacOS 12.3 or iPadOS 15.4 software:

  • MacBook Pro (2016 and later)
  • MacBook (2016 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2018 and later)
  • iMac (2017 and later)
  • iMac (5K Retina 27-inch, last 2015)
  • iMac ‘Pro, Mac Mini (2018 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2019)
  • All ‌ iPad Pro ‘models
  • IPad Air (third generation and next)
  • iPad (6th generation and later)
  • IPad mini (5th generation and later)

In macOS 12.3, the Display Preferences pane adds new features to accommodate changes for Universal Control. When you have other iPadOS 15.4 or macOS 12.3 devices on the same network, signed in and close to the same iCloud account, they will now appear in this pane that will allow you to configure their physical proximity to your Mac by hosting the connection.

See: M1 MacBook Pro vs M1 iPad Pro: Which one is faster in real world? (Free PDF) (TekriPublic)

While displaying Display System Preferences, select “Add Display” and then select your iPad or macOS device that is compatible with Universal Control and running at least macOS 12.3 or iPadOS 15.4 (Figure A)

Figure A

Adding a macOS or iPadOS device to Universal Control is as easy as selecting it from the list available.

When you do this, your iPad or Mac will show up in a place that allows you to configure it physically near your host Mac. Drag and drop to rearrange devices (Figure B)

Figure B

Drag and drop the displays here to rearrange them to their proper physical orientation.

When you do this by default, it will use the iPad connected to Universal Control without any additional configuration; However, if you want to use the iPad as an external or mirrored display, select Display Settings. IPad, then select “Extended or mirrored display” from the drop-down menu.

Figure C

There are some configuration options available in Universal Control’s system preferences that are unique to using the Universal Control connection on the iPad or Mac.

Some settings can be changed while the display system is in preference. Select Display Settings | Universal control (Figure C) To configure three different options:

  • Allow your cursor and keyboard to move between any Mac or iPad nearby. Use this setting to allow your cursor and keyboard to be used on any nearby Mac or iPad signed in to your iCloud account. Disabling this will completely disable universal control. It is enabled by default.
  • Press along the edge of the display to connect to a nearby Mac or iPad. This option is enabled by default and allows your cursor to be dragged from one end of the screen to the other between Mac or iPad devices connected to Universal Control.
  • Automatically reconnect to any Mac or iPad nearby. This option allows any Mac or iPad you previously connected to automatically connect to the Mac you’re using to use Universal Controls without additional configuration.

When you want to disconnect an iPad or Mac from the host Mac as the Universal Control Client, right click on it in the panel (Figure D) And select “Disconnect”. This will disconnect the device from setup and it will no longer be added to your Universal Control Devices list. Using the setup steps above, you can no longer use it without dragging your cursor over it or reassembling it.

Figure D

Disconnecting a Universal Control Client from Host Mac is as easy as right-clicking and selecting Disconnect.

If Universal Control is configured with your device, you can use the keyboard and mouse between connected devices to control any other device. This means that on your host Mac, you can move the mouse to the iPad (or other Mac) and use the software and features available on those other devices without having to lift your hand from the host Mac’s keyboard or mouse. This is great when you have multiple computers or an iPad that you need to use with your daily workflow: Easily move between devices on your desk.

When you move your Mac’s cursor toward the iPad, it moves to the iPad’s screen, allowing you to control the iPad using the native iPad cursor. Use the keyboard to type a document, then select and drag text, pictures, files and more from iPad to Mac and vice versa.

This is a game changer feature for many users who rely on multiple devices to perform their tasks and who can now easily access files from one operating system or device to another.

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