How to Use the Virtual Trackpad on the iPad

iPad screen showing virtual trackpad

Daniel Nations

Anyone who has ever tried to move the cursor to the first letter on the screen knows moving the iPad's on-screen cursor can be a tricky process, and the little magnifying glass isn't always enough to get the job done. This is why iOS 9's virtual trackpad is going to make manipulating text on the iPad almost as easy as on a PC. This is one of the more advanced features of iOS that most people don't even know exists.

How Does It Work?

To engage the virtual trackpad, simply put two fingers down on the keyboard. You will know it is working when the keys on the keyboard go blank. To move the cursor, leave your two fingers down on the screen and move them around just as you would on a normal trackpad. The cursor will follow your movement. And as a bonus, you don't need to confine your movement to the keyboard section of the screen. When the virtual trackpad is engaged, you can move your fingers anywhere on the display, and it will act as one giant trackpad.

You can also scroll through text by moving the cursor to the far top or to the far bottom of the screen. As you continue to move your fingers in that direction, the text will scroll with you.

You can also select text using the trackpad. This one might throw you off a bit when you first begin using the virtual trackpad, but once you get accustomed to using it, selecting text with the trackpad becomes a real timesaver. In order to select text, you will need to start with the trackpad "unengaged." You will use two fingers to engage it as normal, but instead of moving your fingers around the screen, you will hold them still for one-to-two seconds. The cursor will change from a vertical line to a vertical line with a circle on each end of it. This means you are in selection mode. When you move your fingers, instead of simply moving the cursor, it will select text starting with where the cursor was when the selection mode was engaged.

You Don't Need to Put Your Fingers on the Keyboard to Use the Virtual Trackpad

While the instruction above says to put two fingers down on the keyboard, you don't actually need your fingers to touch the on-screen keyboard to engage the virtual keyboard. It is easier to teach the technique by touching the keyboard simply because the keyboard goes blank, alerting you that the virtual trackpad is engaged. But anywhere on the screen that you can edit text, you can tap your two fingers and engage the trackpad. You can even select text this way.

Remember: It must be an area of the screen where you can edit text.

Does the Trackpad Work in Third-Party Apps?

While the virtual trackpad should work in most apps that allow you to type in text, it won't be supported in every app. Some third-party apps may include trackpad support in a future release. And, if the app doesn't support actually editing text—such as a web browser viewing a standard web page—the trackpad may not work.

Don't Forget the Undo Button

Apple has added a few app-specific buttons to the on-screen keyboard. In most apps that let you edit text, you will have an undo button to the left of the auto-correct suggestions. This button usually looks like a button making a u-turn to the left-side of the screen. Remember, this button is specific to certain apps, so it won't always be there. But if you do make a mistake selecting, copying and pasting text, always look for the button on the keyboard to undo your mistake. You can also shake the iPad to undo the mistake.