It’s just one computer. That’s what I’m telling myself when I use Universal Control. The Mac, the iPad, functioning as one. It’s a computing experience with two screens. In the week or two since the release of the new feature there’s been a bit of debate about the usefulness of the new feature with some suggesting it’s a gimmick or just not that useful. And I suppose it’s possible that the usefulness might be a question depending on your workflow.
But in my case as I’ve been making more of an effort to use my Mac and sitting at a desk to do so, I’ve worked out a pretty comfortable flow between the two. There’s nothing here that’s set in concrete. It’s all about flexibility and flow and learning to move between the screens just as I might if my Mac were using two screens. But rather than the Mac driving both I’m using the extra compute power of the iPad as needed. The key here, and I believe Apple’s intent, is that the movement of cursor and keyboard between multiple screens be so fluid that we just do what we do without thinking too much. Initially there may be a tendency to over-think it.
An example of how it’s been useful to me. I often need to design newsletters, reports or brochures. For longer documents I’ll likely use Affinity Publisher which currently is not available on the iPad. In that case I’ll open my document full screen on the Mac and use the iPad for sourcing material sent by the client. I might have text saved to Apple Notes, or in a Word document or in an email or webpage. I can effortlessly move my cursor to the iPad, select, copy and then paste into my document. Or select and drag the text back to the Mac screen and drop it. Both work. If it’s an image I need I can do the same. The 13" iPad Pro has a large enough screen that I can have two apps open from which to source content from, all the while my Publisher document remains focused and in full screen on the Mac.
Flipping it, while I’ve got the Mac set-up now to do website edits for clients that’s something I usually do in Textastic on the iPad. I don’t have a problem multitasking on the iPad but if I were at my desk already this would be an ideal time to use the Mac for the reference material sent by the client via email or Messages as I use Textastic to edit and upload the html files on the iPad Pro. Or, I could do the opposite.
The beauty of Universal Control, iCloud and having a similar set of tools on the Mac and iPad means that however I choose to work at any given moment, I’ve got two screens, two computers, but one fast, seamless point of control for both. As I said at the beginning of the post, it feels as though I’m working with one computer.
The last change I’ve just made to the set-up is a monitor arm for the 27" display and two bookend speakers as the monitor has no built in speakers and the Mac Mini’s internal speaker is pretty useless. With this arrangement it occurred to me it might be better to place the iPad under the display rather than to the side as I’ve been using it. This makes room for the speakers on either side and the iPad fits perfectly below the display and just above the Keychron keyboard. Not only does Universal control work perfectly via this vertical arrangement it actually feels better and less error prone than it did when I had it off to the side.
All in all I think Universal Control will be the kind of feature, like the other Continuity features such as Handoff and Shared Clipboard, that will prove really useful in my workflow as I suspect it does for others that are using multiple devices.