First look: Trackpads on iPadOS 13.4

I'm a trackpad fan, so I've rushed to check out iPadOS 13.4 and found one negative that may affect you. TL;DR version: otherwise it works great!
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

I just downloaded iPadOS 13.4, whose headline feature is trackpad and mouse support. I'm a trackpad fan, so I've rushed to check it out and found one negative that may affect you. TL;DR version: Otherwise, it works great!

Apple's long contention that people don't want a touchscreen laptop ran smack into the fact that many people, including me, like using the iPad as a laptop. The light weight, the performance, the battery life, the many apps, and the forced concentration on one or two apps at a time are all reasons that I prefer my iPad Pro to a Macbook.

Despite that, I had to agree with Apple on the touchscreen issue: the ergonomics of using the iPad in a laptop configuration is more painful than a Macbook. So I've been especially interested in the trackpad support.

The beta version of 13.4 wasn't encouraging. I couldn't get the trackpad to work at all.

But it does work in the release version, with one caveat: The first Magic Trackpad doesn't work correctly. The big problem is that  normal two-finger scrolling refused to work.

Then I paired a Magic Trackpad 2 - the one with the Lightning connector - and the promised goodness was all there.

Set up

I hate mice, and use a trackpad on my iMac, and I'm happy with it. With the Natural Scrolling option checked in the Trackpad Settings, it works like the Mac. Here's a screenshot of the Trackpad Settings menu:

R. Harris

Before you pair a device, the Settings heading is Trackpad and Mouse. Once you choose one, the title changes to whatever you chose.

The pairing works like any device. Make sure the trackpad is in pairing mode - pressing and holding the power button until the light blinks - while in the Bluetooth page in Settings. Easy-peasy.

As promised, the cursor is a filled gray circle. One nice feature:  The cursor changes when it hovers over something - highlighting an entire button, for example. You don't have to wonder if you're on the button or not.

Trackpad in action

I mostly write on a 12.9" 3rd gen iPad Pro. The Magic trackpad performs the same as it does on the Mac. There's virtually no learning curve.

But not all is quite as smooth as the Apple promo video makes out, at least when it comes to text selection. The text selection gestures demo well, but I find them fiddly in practice.

My fine motor skills are pretty bad, so I've had fall back on click hold and move the cursor to select text, rather than the baroque three-finger ballet moves in the demo. It would help if they had the same short demos of each gesture in iPadOS as there are in macOS.

Other changes

The promise of the revised files app is not obvious. I've searched in vain for real differences. Maybe in a dot release?

As for the other touted improvements, I'm not noticing much difference. That's not a bad thing - I've got work to do, after all - but temper your expectations.

The Storage Bits take

Bottom line: I love the (Magic 2) trackpad support! My question now is will I want to carry the Magic Trackpad 2 with me? It's one more piece of kit. I'll see.

But the level of integration bodes well for the new Magic Keyboard. I just hope that trackpad is big enough to handle all the three-finger gestures.

If not, there will be some disappointed Magic Keyboard buyers.

A brief history of Apple iPad models 2010-2019 (Gallery)

Comments welcome. Do you find the three-finger text selection gestures as difficult as I do?

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