This question is based more on conjecture about how the coming iPad Pro may work than any hard evidence or major confirmed rumors. Despite that, I think a discussion of mouse support on the iPad Pro is a good thought exercise about how we want to use the device, and where we want Apple to take the platform in the future.
One recurring rumor about the new device is that it will have a USB-C port that is capable of delivering 4K video to an external monitor. When I first heard this, I assumed that this rumor referred to the iPad being able to screen mirror to a separate HD source, which we can already do today. However, there have been hints that this functionality may be expanded to include using the connected screen as a secondary monitor.
This sounds like an amazing new feature for an iOS device. However, you have to wonder exactly how that would work. It is highly unlikely that the majority of iPad users have touch-enabled 4K monitors lying around. Without touch support, how would a secondary monitor work with iOS as it stands today? What would be able to do with it? Not much, unfortunately. Based on the interface paradigms we are used to, adding Bluetooth mouse support to the iPad Pro seems like the easiest way to handle such a new feature. It is this line of thinking that got me and others thinking and talking about the possibility of the mouse coming to iPad Pro.
Mouse support has been one of those third rails for the iPad in the past. Apple purposely avoided all of the usual interface conventions when they initially released the the iPad, which instantly set it apart from the field of similarly-priced laptops. That was a good thing at the time, as its touch interface excelled at ease of use. Thanks to its better-than-expected early popularity, the iPad has done more to push touch-based interface for tablets forward than any other device.
However, that was then and this is now. Fast forward to today, and you now have the Microsoft Surface family of devices, all of which have the added flexibility of touch and Pen support, while also offering users a full desktop OS experience. It’s a different playing field, with touch-enabled laptops being the norm now and lots of good options to choose from across many manufacturers and price points. When you consider that the stylus was also an Apple third rail at one point, maybe there is reason to hope that mouse support could also come to the iPad. Maybe where the rest of the market is going will move them in this direction, as well.
As for me personally, I’m all for Apple adding mouse support on iOS. If they want to make the iPad Pro a real productivity device like they continually claim, then adding the ability to use a mouse or trackpad alongside a keyboard would be a huge help in accomplishing some power tasks. Multi-monitor support is just one of many potential applications for it. I know that one of my biggest complaints when I am using a Pro to write is that I will have to reach up away from the keyboard to the screen to do certain things. Sometimes this happens a lot, which really breaks up the flow of writing. I know I could perform those tasks faster using a mouse or trackpad, so adding support for them would be a big help to me immediately.
Another reason I want to see mouse support on the iPad Pro is because I don’t think Apple will ever port touch capability to the Mac. All indications are that the company sees the iPad as its near-term computing future. We have also seen the Mac and macOS stagnate just a bit, with the yearly updates to the OS being small features and bug fixes, and hardware upgrades being very incremental. The touch feature that Apple did release on the Mac, the Touch Bar, didn’t go over all that well, either
If Apple isn’t going to bring touch to the Mac, then they need to bring mouse support to the iPad Pro. One of the advantages of the Surface is that it is a good “bridge” device for general purpose users. The current desktop OSs are too large and bloated, and the hardware isn’t nearly as efficient as a mobile device. However, by adding usable touch support to Windows, Microsoft has been able to add enough versatility to the device to give users more of what they want and need in one box. Add in great hardware quality, and you finally have a worthy competitor battling with Apple.
To date, Apple has refused to follow suit, but I think they would benefit in finally doing so. The iPad Pro is definitely the ideal “bridge” device in their existing hardware lineup, so it makes sense for them to beef it up a bit. Mouse and multi-monitor support would be a great way for them to start down that path.
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