Mouse support is hidden in iPadOS for a reason

Commentary: Apple's newest Accessibility feature won't turn your iPad into a laptop replacement.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read
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A better browser, new multitasking, a smoother Pencil... and everyone's excited by a mouse. Apple's newest version of the iPad OS is here as a public beta for you to download (on a secondary device, please). And you can, indeed, pair a Bluetooth mouse and use it to control your iPad. It seems, at first, like wish fulfillment. I've wanted mouse -- or, actually, trackpad -- support for years. Seven and a half years, to be precise.

I'm here to throw some cold water on your excitement, because I've used what you think is mouse support, but is actually Apple's Bluetooth pointer tool in Accessibility settings. It's not the mouse support you're looking for, or I'm looking for. And that's okay, because Apple isn't intending for me to use it.

Even turning the feature on feels like an Easter egg: in Settings, you open Accessibility, then Touch, then turn AssistiveTouch on, and within that add a Bluetooth mouse as a Pointing Device. It's deliberately buried, so it's not confused with being an everyday iPadOS feature.

Steven Aquino, a noted writer who covers accessibility and computing, has had strong thoughts about coverage confusing iPadOS' seemingly hidden feature with some "miracle mouse support" trick. "Yes, Apple can and should improve it, but people would be better off if they remembered it's an accessibility feature first and foremost," Aquino said in a tweet.

I admit, even in my attempts to explain what it is and what it isn't, I've probably ended up misrepresenting it.

There are accessibility features that have been of use to a wider audience: I once activated a touch-based home button replacement when my actual home button wasn't working. But turning this accessibility-targeted pointer feature into a stand-in mouse for other purposes is a mistake.

If you doubt me, just try it. Set it up for yourself. The cursor is extremely large. It only works with one button-click function, usually simulating what a finger touching the screen would do. You can't highlight text in the same way as a trackpad, or PC or Mac mouse.

That's fine, again, because it wasn't made for me. And yes, I'd love full mouse or trackpad support in the iPad. I've wanted it for, literally, years. But this accessibility feature isn't it, and just because Apple included this in iPadOS in 2019 doesn't mean full mouse and trackpad support is coming in the future.

I still think it's an exciting feature, which is why I list it as notable on iPadOS. But it's exciting for what it can offer others. Any way that iOS can expand its accessibility, and open its functions up, are good steps forward.

I hope Mac-like mouse and trackpad support is the next thing Apple addresses on iPadOS, because it could very well be the final piece in the puzzle to have the iPad fully replace my laptop.

But this year, there's a very good reason why the mouse connectivity is hidden.