Why Microsoft’s iPad Trackpad Support Is a Big Deal

Even Excel-heads can love the iPad

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft Office now supports the full range of iPad trackpad features.
  • The Magic Keyboard and Trackpad really does turn your iPad into a MacBook Lite.
  • Once you’ve gotten used to keyboard and mouse support on iPad, you may never want to go back.
Apple's Magic Keyboard with Trackpad and iPad
Apple Inc

The trackpad is the most exciting—and important—thing to happen to the iPad in years. And now Microsoft is adding full trackpad support to its iOS Office, moving the iPad yet another step towards total laptop replacement.

The Magic Keyboard with Trackpad transforms Apple’s tablet into a more-than-credible laptop alternative. All apps work with the trackpad, but when apps are redesigned to take full advantage, everything works better.. 

“iPad with keyboard and trackpad is a whole new experience and much more productive in our view,” founder of Ulysses app Max Seelemann told Lifewire via direct message. “Productivity is all Ulysses is about, so this is a required feature for us.”

What Is Trackpad Support?

Halfway through the life of iOS 13, Apple added full support for mice and trackpads to the iPad (and the iPhone, amazingly). All you have to do is hook up any USB or Bluetooth mouse/trackpad, and a little circle will appear on the screen. This circle is kind of a cross between the Mac/PC mouse pointer and a virtual finger. You can click and right-click (with two fingers), just like on a Mac, and you can use two fingers to scroll. If you’re using Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Trackpad case, or Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 (the one that comes with the iMac), then you can also use two-, three-, and four-finger gestures to swipe between apps, show the iPad’s dock, and more. 

In short, the trackpad support is comprehensive, and can completely replace touching the screen if you want it to. If you slap the iPad Pro or Air into the Magic Keyboard with Trackpad case (where it is secured with magnets), then it behaves just like a MacBook. It’s almost uncanny how natural it seems, even from the first swipe. 

The trackpad works with any app, but software developers can add specific support. For example, the trackpad blob can morph into different shapes. It could become a pencil in a drawing app, and it can snap onto icons and buttons as you approach them, which makes clicking easier (the iOS mouse pointer is inherently less accurate than desktop pointers because iOS was built for fatter fingertips).

Microsoft Office will offer full support for this. “When moving a finger across the built-in trackpad of Magic Keyboard,” writes Microsoft’s Bill Doll in a blog post, “the cursor transforms into the tool you need depending on the content you’re pointing to.” The pointer will turn into a pair of arrows when resizing an image, for example. 

Powerpoint on iPad
 Microsoft

These are niceties, but hardly essential. However, one addition makes a huge difference in how you use the iPad: contextual menus.

Right Click

Right-clicking is a fundamental part of using a desktop computer. You right-click (control-click or tap/click with two-fingers on a Mac) to get a contextual menu with various options. The iPad has always had a long-press, which can reveal extra options (and still can), but the problem is right there in the name: long. A right-click is instant and is now available all over iOS.

"iPad with keyboard and trackpad is a whole new experience and much more productive."

You can right-click notifications on the lock screen to show a menu of options, you can right-click on an icon in the iPad’s dock, on its home screen. 

In apps, right-clicks can pop up menus. In Ulysses, for example, right-clicking on a word or words brings up the familiar black bubble menu, with options for spell checking and so on. Image-editing app Pixelmator Photo uses a contextual menu to give quick access to sharing, importing, and copying. The difference here is that it’s instant. And if you right-click on an interface element, you get a proper, desktop-style menu. This makes using the iPad so much faster (and more powerful). 

iPad and Trackpad using Numbers
Apple Inc 

The iPad is still not a laptop replacement, nor is it meant to be. After all, why just duplicate the MacBook when you can buy a MacBook? But it is more than capable of being a laptop alternative, especially for newer users who haven’t grown up using the desktop PC paradigm. And now that you can finally use a mouse to edit your Excel spreadsheets, even the grayest of gray suits can learn to love it.