Apple, just admit the iPad is a computer and give us a mouse

Not pictured: a mouse.
Not pictured: a mouse.
Image: Apple
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Apple just released the first public beta of iPadOS, its new operating system for the iPad, which anyone can download and test out before a wider release this fall.

If you’ve taken the plunge and installed the new software on your compatible iPad, you’ll be greeted with a whole host of new features to play with. They include a new home screen for the iPad, dark mode, better file management, and better multitasking.

One new feature that’s hidden away within a series of menus is perhaps the most surprising of all: the iPad now supports a mouse. Here’s how to access it, after you’ve installed the beta software:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Tap “Accessibility” down in the left-hand menu
  3. Tap “Touch”
  4. Tap the “AssistiveTouch” bar near the top of the screen
  5. Turn on the “AssistiveTouch” toggle near the top of the screen
  6. Scroll down to “Pointing Devices” and tap it
  7. Look for your mouse. You can either pair a Bluetooth mouse, or plug in a mouse through the USB-C port—you may need an adapter if you only have a standard USB-A mouse

There are other settings in the “AssistiveTouch” menu page that will help with your mousing experience. You can change the “tracking speed” to faster or slower, change the color of the (unfortunately large) cursor, and turn off the floating menu button by switching off the “Always Show Menu” toggle.

And assuming you don’t have a Bluetooth or USB-C mouse laying around, you’re left with a setup that looks something like this:

This feature, however, was originally designed as an accessibility option for iPad owners who are more comfortable using a mouse than tapping on a screen. Apple hasn’t necessarily designed it for everyday use of a mouse you use with a computer.

That being said, there’s not really much reason for Apple to not provide wider support for mice on the iPad. The company wasn’t immediately able to comment whether there are any technical reasons for hiding the feature away in the accessibility menus.

Apple long kept its tablet and Mac computer lines separate, with fingers and styluses the only inputs allowed on iPads, with keyboards and mice left for the Macs. That changed a bit in recent years, with the introduction of the iPad Pro, which brought a keyboard to the iPad. That makes it a truly great portable device for most situations. As Apple has started to meld the software on iOS and Mac devices, it stands to reason it would begin to support all input options. It would be a big help. I can run powerful, full programs like Excel and Lightroom on the iPad Pro, but I still have to rely on my fat fingers to manipulate the data accurately.

While it’s likely going to be a while before we see touchscreen Macs, if ever (that would require to Apple to design new products), the company wouldn’t have to do much to widen mouse support to include the iPad, given it already has the software in iPadOS.

What seems to be holding the company back? Apple has created a false dichotomy between “the computer” and “the iPad,” comparing the iPad to computers in the marketing on its website, and once running an ad for the iPad that ended with a child implausibly asking an adult, “What’s a computer?”

In reality, an iPad is a computer. Your iPhone is a computer. Most things with screens and lots of processing power are computers.

In recent years, Apple has started to, slowly, listen to consumer demands when it sees competitors meeting them. It started making larger phones when it saw Android companies like Samsung have success with larger-screen devices. It added a keyboard and stylus to its tablets when it saw Microsoft’s Surface line had started to take off. Still, Apple never gave the iPad mouse support, maintaining it was a mobile device designed for direct manual inputs.

Now, with the introduction of iPadOS, with updates that will make Apple’s tablets feel more like computers, the company is tacitly admitting there’s little reason to not allow users to interact with devices in ways they’re comfortable doing.

And it would be very unlike Apple to pass up an opportunity to up-sell its customers on a $79 Magic Mouse to use with its iPads.