How to pair a Magic Trackpad with an iPad and use gestures

You can now use a trackpad and Mac-like gestures with iPadOS, and you don't even have to buy Apple's pricey Smart Keyboard case to do it.

apple magic trackpad ipad
Leif Johnson/IDG

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On March 18, Apple formally announced trackpad and mouse support for iPadOS. The changes coming in iPadOS 13.4 are massive improvements over the half-baked options in Accessibility that we first saw in iPadOS 13.

No exaggeration: Trackpad support is the best thing that’s happened to the iPad in a long time. Apparently, iPadOS 13.4 supports multiple third-party trackpads, but we haven’t had a chance to try all those out. This how-to specifically focuses on the Magic Trackpad 2.

Apple announced the support alongside its new trackpad-equipped Magic Keyboard case for the iPad Pro with the expectation that you’ll shell out either $299 for the 11-inch model or $349 for the 12.9-inch model. While the case looks great, you don’t have to spend that cash if you already have a Magic Trackpad for the Mac. This article shows you how to set it up and the steps should work with any iPad that can run iPadOS 13.

There are several good reasons to hook up a trackpad to your iPad. For one, you don’t have to constantly lift up your hand to poke the screen when you’re using your iPad in “laptop” mode on a desk or a table. For another, Apple lets you configure the trackpad and mouse to support familiar actions like right-clicking. The trackpad is also a big improvement over a mouse as it lets you use gestures that simplify common iPad tasks like multitasking, and Apple improved the experience over what we saw in the initial iPadOS 13 launch by making the pointer feels more “Mac-like” in how it interacts with links and text.

How to pair a Magic Trackpad 2 with your iPad

If you’re trying to use a Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse you normally use with your Mac, you’ll need to unpair it from your Mac first. You can do this by going to the Settings app on your Mac, pressing Bluetooth, and then right-clicking on the trackpad or mouse in the list you see. Click Remove and the trackpad will unpair.

If your trackpad is tied to a Mac you no longer have access to, you can force it to pair with any Mac by attaching a Lightning cable to it and then plugging it into the Mac. You might need a dongle. Once it shows up on Bluetooth after you’re attached it, unplug it and follow the steps above.

Here’s how to set it up on your iPad. Once your trackpad is unpaired, turn it off and then turn it back on. After that: 

  1. On your iPad, open the Settings app.
  2. Press Bluetooth.
  3. Make sure Bluetooth is toggled on (green) at the top of the menu that pops up. Toward the bottom of the menu, you should see your trackpad or mouse listed under Other Devices
  4. Press your device’s name, and it should immediately pair.
magic trackpad ipad pairing Leif Johnson/IDG

The name of your device, of course, will almost certainly be different.

Your trackpad should now work. To unpair it, simply go to Settings Bluetooth and then press the blue “i” in a blue circle to the right of the device’s name in the Bluetooth list. You can simply disconnect it, but if you want to unpair it entirely, press Forget This Device. And that will be that.

How to customize your Magic Trackpad on your iPad

Apple now gives trackpad and mouse support its own dedicated section in the General section of the Settings app, which is a big improvement over the way it used to be buried in Accessibility. If you want to change how your trackpad works with your iPad, here’s how to do it. 

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap General in the column on the left-hand side.
  3. Press Trackpad & Mouse. It should be about halfway down the page.
trackpad and mouse ipados 13 Leif Johnson/IDG

This is so much simpler than it used to be.

From here you can adjust the tracking to make the pointer move faster or more slowly. You can also turn off what Apple calls “Natural Scrolling,” (which I personally recommend as it has never felt natural to me). Apple also gives you options for turning on “Tap to Click” (which is off by default) and turning off “Two-Finger Secondary Click,” which allows you to easily open Quick Action Menus on app icons or “right-click” in documents. I recommend leaving both of these as they are.

How to use trackpad multitouch gestures to interact with iPadOS

Trackpad support on the iPad is more than just mouse support. It greatly enhances the iPad experience in ways mere mouse support did not. Apple incorporated some familiar macOS gestures into its iPadOS trackpad support and even introduced some iPadOS specific ones. Below, you’ll find the gestures we know about at the moment. We’ll update this list as we learn more of them.

Go to the Home screen at any time

Without pressing down on your trackpad, touch your trackpad with three fingertips and swipe up in one continuous motion. You’ll immediately be sent back to the Home screen regardless of what you’re doing. 

Use the App Switcher to see all your open apps at once

This is very similar to the last gesture, but with a subtle twist. Without pressing down on your trackpad, touch your trackpad with three fingertips and swipe up—but slow down a bit before you reach the top of the trackpad. Instead of seeing the Home Screen, you’ll see your App Switcher with all open apps. You can swipe through the full list by touching the trackpad with two fingertips and swiping left or right. 

Swipe through all open apps (without using the App Switcher)

Once an app is open in fullscreen mode, you can easily swipe through all other apps that are running by touching the trackpad with three fingertips and swiping left or right. 

Open the Control Center

Move your pointer to the upper right of the screen to where you'll find the time and battery life. Once the pointer is over them, that interface element should highlight. Press it, and your Control Center will open. (This is probably more convenient with a mouse.)

’Right-click’ or quickly see an app icon’s Quick Action Menu

Normally in iPadOS, you have to hold down on an app’s icon for around a second before you see a Quick Action Menu. With a trackpad, you can move the pointer over an icon, tap the trackpad with two fingers, and you’ll immediately see the Quick Action Menu. This also works as a “right-click” option with most apps.

Pinch to zoom

Without pressing down on the trackpad, pinch outward to zoom on an image, webpage, or similar onscreen element. Pinch inward to zoom out. This is the same gesture you would normally use on an iPad screen, but I’ve noticed that it’s trickier on the trackpad because it’s easy to press down on it. 

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