How to Use the Virtual Trackpad on the iPad

iPad screen showing virtual trackpad

Daniel Nations

Moving the iPad's on-screen cursor can be a tricky process, but iOS 9's virtual trackpad makes managing text on the iPad much easier. This is one of the more advanced features of iOS that most people don't even know exists.

These instructions apply to devices running iOS 9 or later.

How Does It Work?

To use the virtual trackpad, put two fingers down on the screen, or do a long press on the space key. When the keys on the keyboard go blank, the trackpad is active.

Virtual trackpad on an iPad

To move the cursor, leave your finger(s) on the screen and move them around just as you would on a normal trackpad. The cursor will follow your movement. When the virtual trackpad is on, you can move 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.

How to Select Text Using the Trackpad

You can also select text using the trackpad. Here's how:

  1. Start with the trackpad off.

  2. Put two fingers on the iPad display.

    You can't use text selection if you turn on the trackpad with a long press on the space key.

  3. When the trackpad turns on, keep your fingers where they are for a couple of seconds.

  4. The cursor will change into selection mode, which adds circles to the top and bottom of the cursor.

    iPad trackpad
  5. Drag your fingers on the screen to select text. You can only do this on pages and in apps in which 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 write text, not every app supports the functionality. Some third-party programs that don't use the trackpad now may include it in a future release. And, if the app doesn't support 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 is specific to certain apps, so it won't always be there. But if you make a mistake selecting, copying and pasting text, tap Undo or shake your iPad to take it back.

Undo button on iPad