What is Apple's Universal Control? The new connectivity feature explained

What is Apple's Universal Control? image shows Apple devices using Universal Control
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s macOS operating system runs on an annual release cadence, and Apple's Universal Control is one its most anticipated features, especially as 2021’s macOS Monterey felt a little flat

There’s some great stuff there, sure, with the likes of Shortcuts finally coming to the Mac, as well as Live Text to copy data from images into text, but for the most part, it’s a quieter year – aside from Universal Control which has got the tech world buzzing.

Universal Control, as Apple touts it, is a new way for your iPad and Mac to play nicely together, making the two feel part of one connected ecosystem like never before. Here’s a rundown of what it is, whether your Mac can run it, and when it’s coming.

What is Apple's Universal Control?

Universal Control is what Apple is calling a feature that will essentially let users control multiple devices in the Mac and iPad product lineups with the same keyboard and mouse.

Say, for example, you have an iMac on your desk and you need to take a file on your MacBook Air. With Universal Control enabled, you’ll be able to drag that file to the edge of your screen and drop it straight onto your MacBook just by moving a single mouse between the two.

Since it’ll work on the iPad, too, you’ll be able to drag and drop an image from your tablet straight into a work presentation on your Mac, or send a document to your iPad, sign it with your Apple Pencil, and fire it back.

It’s the closest we’ve come to an effortless, multi-device future in the Apple ecosystem, and it’s likely to open plenty of exciting possibilities.

How is Apple's Universal Control different from Sidecar?

If you’re already using your iPad as an external display, then that’s done through Sidecar. Sidecar allows your Mac to connect to the iPad and extend or mirror its display through it, and it works really well if you need additional screen real estate.

What makes Universal Control different from Sidecar is that there’s no initial connection needed, and files can be transferred. So while you can drag files onto your iPad through Sidecar, it’s still technically on your Mac – just in a different place.

Universal Control, on the other hand, would see your file copied or even moved entirely to another device.

That’s also different from AirPlay to Mac, also included in macOS Monterey. This will stream content from, say, your iPad to your Mac’s screen, but the file will still live on your iPad itself.

What is Apple's Universal Control?: image shows Apple devices using Universal Control

(Image credit: Apple)

Can my Mac use Apple's Universal Control?

The following Mac computers can use Universal Control:

  • MacBook Pro (2016 and later)
  • MacBook (2016 and later)
  • iMac (2017 and later)
  • iMac 27-inch (Late 2015)
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac mini (2018 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2019 and later)list

That’s a wide range of devices, but if you want to use it with an iPad, you’ll want one of the following: 

  • iPad (6th generation and later)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation and later)
  • iPad Mini (5th generation and later)
  • iPad Pro

When is Apple's Universal Control arriving?

After being delayed out of the macOS Monterey launch, Universal Control will finally arrive as part of macOS 12.3.

That update is slated to arrive next week, alongside iPadOS 15.4 which presumably enables the feature on the iPad side of things.

How to use Apple's Universal Control

All signs from recent macOS betas suggest that Universal Control will be automatically enabled by default once macOS 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4 have been installed on your devices.

As for setup, as we mentioned earlier, there isn’t really any. Instead, you’ll just need to make sure your devices are close together, and you should be able to drag items with your mouse. There’s a subtle point of “resistance” before your cursor goes over the edge of one display and appears on another, which should help mitigate your mouse wandering off when you don’t want it to.

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Lloyd Coombes
Customer Advisor, Computing

Lloyd Coombes is Top Ten Reviews' Computing Customer Advisor, and a freelance writer with a specialism in tech, gaming, and fitness. Since starting out as a blogger, he’s written for sites like IGN, TechRadar, and more.

An expert on all things Apple ever since he got a second-hand iMac, Lloyd can regularly be found testing software on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac — when he’s not testing the platforms themselves, that is. He’s also Dexerto.com’s Games Editor, and a podcaster.

When he’s not writing, you can probably find him running after his son, playing Destiny 2, or at the gym.