For members only ↓ Sign up here →

Issue #18: Should I get a trackpad?

🆓 This member post is free for all, thanks to our paying subscribers. Enjoy!

Hi there!

Now that iPadOS has pointer support, it might be a good idea to talk a little bit more about that. I’m devoting this issue to the (not so old) question whether you should get a trackpad for your iPad or not. It makes sense to talk about that now, given the upcoming design and development issues that are in the pipeline, as mentioned last week.

My name is Thord D. Hedengren, and I’m typing this on a Magic Keyboard, which means I’ve got a built-in trackpad. If you do too, things are pretty easy for you, because the decision’s already been made. This isn’t my core setup though, I prefer to have my iPad in a stand (or on the wall, as you might recall) and type on a Keychron K2 with a Magic Trackpad 2 as my pointer device.

That’s enough setup porn for now! Let’s get down to business.

Mouse or trackpad?

It is my firm belief that you, should you decide to get a pointer device for your iPad, you should get a trackpad. The reason for this is that there are plenty of gestures you can do, just like on the iPad screen with your fingers (four finger swipe up to get to the open apps view, for example), that work the same on a trackpad. If you get a big nice one, like Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 for example, this’ll be useful to you. And while we’re at it, don’t get a third party trackpad, they’re just not nearly as good. Sure, you can save some money, but Apple is so far ahead in the trackpad game – standalone and on laptops – that it’s almost ridiculous. Save yourself the headache of a finicky trackpad, even though it means your wallet will take a hit.

If you do decide to get a mouse, possibly because you can’t stand trackpads or just want more precise control in design apps, you should consider Apple’s Magic Mouse. If you’ve ever used one, you know that it has some gesture support, although I can’t for the life of me rely on it myself. The Magic Mouse isn’t exactly heralded as a great mouse, and I tend to agree with most criticism there. That said, it works, has some gesture support, and you might prefer it to the trackpad.

If you do want a mouse, but not the Magic Mouse, I’d start with Logitech’s offerings. The MX series is really good. Just make sure you get a model that doesn’t rely on the USB dongle, it has to connect using Bluetooth directly.

For the gamers out there, don’t expect to be strafing in the first-person shooters. That’s not how pointing devices work on iPadOS, they mimic a finger, so it’s not the same as when gaming on a PC, for example. For more on this, check out issue 9 (which is also free to read, by the way).

🐁 Pointer devices work with (almost) all iPads
If your iPad runs iPadOS 13.4 or later, you can use pointer devices, as long as it connects using Bluetooth and doesn’t rely on dongles or receivers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can utilize all buttons, scroll wheels, and things that your device might be equipped with, but basic pointing and clicking should work just fine.

When do I need a trackpad?

First of all, I think a pointing device, preferably a trackpad, compliments a hardware keyboard really well. Not having to reach out and touch the screen is a good thing, your neck will thank you, so having a trackpad beside the keyboard is great. Same goes with the one on the Magic Keyboard, of course – it’s actually a pretty good trackpad for its limited size, albeit not exactly a Magic Trackpad 2.

Anyway, I tend to use a pointing device the most when I edit text and are working with code. Moving a cursor with your finger on a touchscreen isn’t a particularly pleasant experience, and jumping around in text with just the keyboard isn’t always optimal. Writing and development are two things where I find the trackpad, together with a hardware keyboard, truly shines.

🏢 Microsoft Office support
Microsoft released updates to their Office 365 apps the other day, bringing full trackpad support. This is good news if you prefer, or need, that particular suite over Apple’s offerings.

Design apps are trickier. On the one hand I like the more exact control that the pointing device offers – which could be used to argue for a mouse rather than trackpad – but I find most apps aren’t really taking full advantage of the device. The expectation is that everything works as it does on a traditional computer because you’re using a traditional input method (i.e. mouse or trackpad), but that isn’t always the case because the trackpad is mimicking a finger on a touchscreen and that’s a different interaction method. Personally I tend to not use the trackpad in design apps as much, I prefer the Apple Pencil for direct interaction with elements. You might not though, and the added precision over a finger is beneficial, so do give it a go.

So should I buy one?

Well, yes, I think so. If you primarily work with the Magic Keyboard (or similar laptop-like case with a trackpad) for your iPad, you’re all set already, although the larger the trackpad is, the better.

I prefer Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 (mine’s space grey because why not pay extra for a color if you can… yes, you may mock me!), but if I’d opt for a mouse instead, I’d go with an MX one from Logitech. It won’t do gestures, but I can barely do those with the Magic Mouse anyway, and while I think the Magic Mouse deserves a slightly better reputation, the MX series is just superior.

However, if you primarily use your iPad for consumption and entertainment, you surely don’t need a pointing device at all. The same goes if you’re an artist with the Apple Pencil close by at all times, because most relevant apps will have great Pencil support, and the experience will be better.

It’s a no-brainer for writers and developers though.

Having a trackpad has, alongside the hardware keyboard, made my iPad a lot more powerful. I spend a lot of time in writing apps, and I develop on my iPad too, so for me it’s just not an option not to have a proper pointing device. Editing a manuscript gets so much easier with the additional control.

We’re going to get into both designing and development in the coming issues, and surely talk about these things then too. I hope you’re coming along for the ride.

– Thord D. Hedengren

In the wild…