How to Move the Cursor Using Trackpad Mode

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With the new iPad just released, I expect that we will have some first-time iPad users stopping by looking for help with their new devices. Also, some of you who may be upgrading from an iPad 2 or 3, or an original iPad Mini may find some of the tablet features in the latest version of iOS unfamiliar. With more new iPads likely still on the way, this is a good time to get back to some basics and brush up on some of the handy features of the current iPad lineup and iOS 10. As such, I will be posting a new Tips and Tricks article each week for a bit. For this first installment, I want to take a look at an unsung feature that came to us in iOS 9.

Have you ever wished that you could connect a mouse to your iPad, even just for a few particular tasks? Have you ever found yourself irritated or distracted having to look up and touch the screen to move back and edit text that you can’t easily reach with a few strokes of the Delete key? If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, then today’s tip is for you.

In iOS 9, Apple added a handy, but somewhat hidden feature to the on-screen keyboard of the iPad. By pressing on the keyboard area simultaneously with two fingers, you can trigger Trackpad Mode. This mode mimics the same kind of gesture control that Macbook or Magic Trackpad users will recognize from using their trackpads. iPhone users with 3D Touch-enabled devices may also recognize the similarities between this and the Trackpad functionality on those devices. The difference is that the iPhone version relies on using a harder press with 3D Touch, while that feature has not yet come to the iPad. It is also not available on older iPhones, despite a brief appearance in some iOS 9 Betas.

You will know you have triggered this mode when the letters or numbers on all of the on-screen keyboard’s keycaps disappear. The cursor will also highlight slightly. The key (pun intended) is to be sure that both fingers contact the screen at the same time.

Keeping your fingers in contact with the screen, move them in any direction, and you can now control the placement of the cursor in the text you are working on. One thing to note is that you need to begin the gesture inside of the borders of the keyboard to trigger Trackpad Mode. However, once you do, you can move beyond the bounds of the keyboard if you need to. Trackpad Mode is disengaged as soon as one or both of your fingers come off the screen.

You can also use this feature to highlight text. When you first engage Trackpad Mode, pause for just a moment before moving your fingers. Now when you move, any text that you pass over will be selected.

This is faster than the traditional method of triggering a select slider by tapping and holding on the screen and then dragging, as you don’t have to be perfect in where you tap to place the cursor in the exact spot that you need. As with a mouse or trackpad, you are in direct control of  where the cursor goes in this mode.

You can also use a little shortcut to select smaller bits of text. After positioning the cursor when you need it, follow that with a single two-finger tap on the screen to highlight the word that follows. Two taps will then highlight the following sentence, and a third will capture the entire paragraph. This is a really well thought out power feature that allows for targeted text selection that is even faster than what you can do with an external keyboard.

Speaking of keyboards, those of you who use a Bluetooth or other external keyboard like I do can also use the Trackpad Mode feature, as well. With your keyboard connected to the iPad, just do the same two finger swipe gesture anywhere on the screen to enable Trackpad Mode.

Text selection also works the same as above. However, one thing I did notice in my testing was that it is a little more difficult to trigger Trackpad Mode using this method than with the on-screen keyboard. Any two-finger swipes on the on-screen keyboard are recognized, even if the fingers don’t contact precisely at the same time. Both fingers have to touch the screen at the EXACT same time when using an external keyboard.

An alternative method for using Trackpad Mode with an external keyboard is to trigger the on-screen keyboard when you want to use it. Like many Bluetooth keyboards that are designed with iOS or Android in mind, my Logitech K811 has a shortcut button to bring up the on-screen keyboard. This is normally used for things like selecting emoji, but it also works well for making Trackpad Mode a little more user-friendly with an external keyboard.

Trackpad Mode is a unique feature that gives iPad users this advanced capability to directly control the cursor without the need for 3D Touch. It may be the closest we will ever get to mouse functionality on the iPad, but I’ll take it, as it is definitely better than nothing. It makes documenting editing SO much easier, cutting down on all of the hunting and tapping required to edit your work. Even with the arrow keys, key combos, and shortcut keys available on my Bluetooth keyboard, I still use Trackpad Mode often while editing because in many cases, it is both faster and easier to use. Unfortunately, this is also a feature that is very easy to miss if you haven’t seen or heard something about it. That is exactly why I started my current Tips and Tricks series here.

Are there any Trackpad Mode users out there? What do you think of it. Alternatively, is this the first you’ve heard of it? Either way, I would love to know what you think. I am also open to any suggestions for tips, features, or questions for futures Tips and Tricks articles. I would love to hear them! Whatever you have to say, there are plenty of places to find me. Hit me up in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog or @jhrogersii. I look forward to hearing from you.

James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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5 thoughts on “How to Move the Cursor Using Trackpad Mode”

    1. Thanks Hans! Kind of like a lot of the features Apple added to iMessage in iOS 10, this is very easy to Miss if you don’t already know it’s there. That’s why I wanted to be sure and cover it. I’ll keep thinking about other such features that are easy to overlook and cover them in the coming weeks.

  1. Only works on text, not graphics – hopeless… official non-jailbroken support of wireless mice would transform the iPadPro into being a real alternative to a PC.

    1. I understand your frustration there. It would be nice to see Apple continue to expand on this idea of cursor control and expand it to control other elements, as well. I deal with text 90% of the time, UT I realize that isn’t the same experience as everyone else.

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