The debate over whether an Apple iPad can replace a laptop remains polarized. But with the launch of the next iteration of iOS, Apple could finally remove one of the longest-running arguments against the iPad as a productivity device.
The iPad is on track to get mouse support for the first time, according to Federico Viticci, editor in chief of MacStories. Viticci revealed his scoop on episode 239 of the Connected podcast. It was confirmed on Twitter by Steve Troughton-Smith, a long-time Apple developer from Ireland.
Over the years, I've heard from plenty of smart people who really like the iPad but lament over the fact that they could do a lot more things with it if they could just plug in a mouse or a trackpad when they need to power through emails, edit photos, or perform traditional desktop tasks. In other words, I agree with Troughton-Smith that pro users would welcome this development.
Viticci and Troughton-Smith left plenty of wiggle room in their statements. Both appear to have knowledge that Apple has been working on the feature, but since they aren't on the iOS product team they obviously can't confirm whether it will officially make it into iOS 13. CNET reached out to Apple for comment and will add to this story when there's additional information to report.
Viticci said he heard the report about iPad getting mouse support from "a couple of people a few months ago." It was in the context of getting a mouse cursor on the iPad as an "accessibility feature." He suggested that it would be part of AssistiveTouch, which helps people with motor-skill limitations to operate their iOS devices more easily.
"What I heard is that, without adapters, you will be able to use any USB mouse on your iPad, but as an accessibility device," Viticci said. "It totally would not surprise me if mouse support eventually comes to the iPad, but it's presented as an accessibility [feature]... Apple doesn't want to say that the only way to use the iPad as a PC replacement is to actually plug in a mouse."
To be fair, it is likely to be a small subset of power users and professionals who will want to use this feature if they don't strictly need it as an accessibility option.
Nevertheless, it could be another important step forward in Apple's positioning of the iPad as a laptop replacement and an enterprise device -- even if the feature flies under the radar if it officially makes it into iOS 13. While Viticci specifically mentioned USB mouse support, it would also make sense to see support for the Bluetooth-powered Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad. Developers such as Louis D'hauwe have even put together a proof-of-concept that shows how this would work. Many power users would embrace the feature for ergonomic reasons alone.
One of the main reasons it makes sense that Apple would add mouse support now is the work that it's doing with Project Marzipan, which allows developers to port iOS apps to Mac. A big part of that involves adapting those apps to work with a mouse.
We expect to learn more about Marzipan at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference, happening June 3-7 at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose. CNET will be there covering the event from every angle. At this year's WWDC, Apple is likely to share the details of iOS 13, MacOS 10.15, WatchOS 6 and TVOS 13.
Viticci also postulated that, with the next version of iOS, iPad apps could get windows or some window-like features. "Right now in iOS, when you open an app it can be one thing, one screen, one instance of the same app," he said in the same episode. "I think what we're going to get in iOS 13 is a way to have separate instances of the same app." The example he used was a document based-app like Pages, where you could have multiple documents open.
For the same crowd that will welcome the idea of connecting a mouse to an iPad, the concept of getting windows or cards that could enable faster app-switching and multitasking would be another bonus for enhancing productivity.
The irony of mouse support being quietly integrated into the iPad would be hard to miss, when we consider how much the mouse was celebrated as the killer feature in the launch of the first Mac. It goes to show that we often have to sacrifice our sacred cows as technology advances, but that some of the least sexy features can also remain the most useful.
Originally published April 24, 2019.