Universal control: everything you need to know

iOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 (currently in beta) introduce Universal Control, a long-awaited feature that Apple first showed off at the 2021 Worldwide Developers Conference.

Universal Control is designed to let you control multiple Macs and iPads with a single trackpad/mouse and keyboard, and this Universal Control guide covers the ins and outs of the feature and answers any questions you might have about how it works.

What is Universal Control?

Universal Control streamlines multi-device workspaces by letting you use the same devices on multiple Macs and iPads.

With Universal Control, you can use your primary Mac’s trackpad and keyboard to control other nearby Macs and/or iPads, so you don’t need a desk cluttered with more than one set of input devices.

How does universal control work?

Universal Control is a system-level feature that is designed to work automatically when a Mac running macOS Monterey 12.3 or later is paired with another Mac also running macOS 12.3 or an iPad running iPadOS 15.4. There is no setup for Universal Control – it just works after updating to the latest OS updates.

To use Universal Control, sign in to a Mac and an iPad or another Mac with the same Apple ID, then place them near each other. From there, use the touchpad on one of your devices to move the cursor to the screen of your other device. It should appear from display to display.

Let’s say you have a MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro. You can set up iPad Pro next to your MacBook Pro, then use the MacBook Pro keyboard and trackpad to navigate and type on iPad. If your iPad has a keyboard and input device, such as the Magic Keyboard, it can be used to control the Mac.

Each individual device will still run its respective operating system (macOS on Mac and iPadOS on iPad), but you won’t need to bring an extra keyboard or mouse if you want to work with multiple devices side-by-side.

If you’re having trouble getting Universal Control to work, be sure to restart both of your devices after installing updates.

What are the universal control system requirements?

Universal Control requires iPadOS 15.4 on an iPad and macOS Monterey 12.3 on a Mac. It is compatible with the following devices:

  • MacBook Pro (2016 and later)
  • MacBook (2016 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2018 and later)
  • iMac (2017 and later)
  • iMac (27-inch 5K Retina, Late 2015)
  • iMac Pro, Mac mini (2018 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2019)
  • All iPad Pro models
  • iPad Air (3rd generation and later)
  • iPad (6th generation and later)
  • iPad mini (5th generation and later)

All devices must be signed into the same iCloud account and two-factor authentication must be enabled. Bluetooth, WiFi, and Handoff must be enabled for wireless use, and devices must be within 30 feet of each other. iPad and Mac can’t share a cellular and internet connection (so Mac can’t connect to iPad), and via USB, Mac must be reliable on iPad.

macOS Monterey and iPadOS 15.4 are available to developers and public beta testers as beta options now, and anyone can sign up for Apple’s beta testing program.

Macs and iPads must be within 30 feet of each other for Universal Control to work, and any devices you want to use the feature on must be signed in to the same Apple ID account. It will not work on devices signed into separate Apple ID accounts.

What can I do with Universal Control?

In addition to simply navigating around two or more devices with the same cursor, you can also use a single keyboard to type into text input fields, such as in Notes or Safari, allowing you to use a single set of devices with all your Apple Devices.

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You can also drag and drop files between two devices, but note that if you’re using an iPad and a Mac, you’ll need to open an app compatible with the file type. If you want to drag a photo from the Mac to the iPad, for example, make sure you open the Photos app on the iPad first. Or if you have a document you want to move, open the Files app on the iPad.

Dragging something from iPad to Mac is easier because the Mac desktop supports different file types, unlike the iPad Home screen. macOS gestures such as the three-finger swipe between pages are also compatible on the iPad, as these are features supported by the Magic Keyboard.

Some multitouch gestures like Mission Control aren’t available on an iPad, and some are a bit different. If you open an app on the iPad and then want to exit using the Mac’s trackpad, you can use a three-finger swipe to do so. Alternatively, with a mouse, you can hover over the dock to trick it into swapping apps.

You can copy and paste content from one device to another using a keyboard as long as it’s an app that supports text input, but this feature doesn’t seem to work yet correctly with apps like Safari. Features like copy/paste will likely see some improvements during the beta testing process.

Can Universal Control be customized or disabled?

If you go to System Preferences -> Displays -> Display Settings-> Advanced, you can find customization options for Universal Control, two of which are already enabled.

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  • Allow your cursor and keyboard to move between any nearby Mac or iPad – This setting enables or disables universal control. If you do not wish to use Universal Control, uncheck this box. It is enabled by default when upgrading to macOS Monterey 12.3.
  • Push through the edge of a screen to connect to a nearby Mac or iPad – Also enabled by default, this setting allows your Mac to automatically connect to a nearby Mac or iPad by nudging the trackpad or mouse cursor to the edge of the screen toward the other device.
  • Automatically reconnect to any nearby Mac or iPad – This setting is not enabled by default, but is designed to allow your Mac to reconnect to any nearby Mac or iPad without having to move the cursor to the secondary device.

The Displays section of Mac System Preferences can also be useful if you want to rearrange the layout of your devices to make sure Universal Control works as expected. If your iPad sits to the left of your Mac, for example, you’ll want to make sure the Displays section shows this layout so that your Mac’s cursor can appear on the iPad’s screen when you pull it out from the left edge of the Mac. screen.

On the iPad, if you go to Settings -> General -> AirPlay & Handoff, you can disable “Cursor & Keyboard” if you don’t want to use Universal Control.

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How does Universal Control compare to Sidecar?

Universal Control allows input devices like keyboards and trackpads to be shared between devices, while Sidecar is designed to let you mirror or extend your Mac’s display onto the iPad.

Sidecar is the feature you need if you want to use macOS on your Mac and connected iPad, while Universal Control is great if you just want to share a mouse and keyboard between two or more devices. With Universal Control, your iPad will continue to use iPadOS, and it won’t show the same macOS interface that you’ll see when using Sidecar.

Sidecar and Universal Control are separate features and do not work in tandem. If you want to use Sidecar to mirror or extend your Mac’s display to your iPad, you’ll need to disable Universal Control as there are some issues with how the two features interact during beta. Enabling Sidecar with Universal Control and then moving the mouse to your secondary display will disable Sidecar.

We have a full explainer on the differences between Sidecar and Universal Control in our comprehensive Sidecar vs Universal Control guide.

Does Universal Control work with third-party mice and keyboards?

Yes. You don’t need Apple devices for Universal Control to work. If you have a mouse from a company like Logitech, for example, it can be used with Universal Control on all devices as long as it’s connected to one of them. The same goes for third-party keyboards.

Does Universal Control work with Apple Pencil?

No. Universal Control does not work with Apple Pencil. Input and control is limited to connected trackpads, mice, and keyboards. A single mouse/trackpad and keyboard can be used to control multiple iPads and Macs.

Does Universal Control work between two Macs?

Yes, Universal Control works between two or more Macs running macOS Monterey 12.3, even if there is no iPad. It can be used only with the Mac.

Does Universal Control work between two iPads without a Mac?

No. Although Universal Control can be used with two or more Macs and without an iPad, at least one Mac is required for use on the iPad.

Two iPads without a Mac can’t take advantage of Universal Control, but if at least one Mac is in the mix, you can use the feature with multiple iPads.

Is Universal Control available for iPhone?

No. Universal Control is a feature designed only for Mac and iPad. There is no option to control an iPhone with the mouse/trackpad and keyboard of a Mac or iPad.

Does Universal Control work with PCs or Android smartphones?

No. As an Apple ID feature, Universal Control is only available on Apple devices. It can only be used on Macs and iPads running the appropriate software.

Does Universal Control work on Intel Macs?

Yes. Universal Control is compatible with Macs with Apple silicon chips and Macs with Intel chips, as long as macOS Monterey 12.3 is supported.

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Link to article: Universal Control: Everything you need to know

Harry L. Blanchard