Universal wonderment

M.G. Siegler, writing on 500ish1 about the new Universal Control feature on MacOS and iOS:

With the launch of iOS 15.4 and macOS 12.3, Apple has rolled out the feature called “Universal Control”. It’s an almost boring name for what it is — but the name also explains what it does: it allows you to control your Apple devices from one point. That is, you can use the trackpad and keyboard on your Mac to control your iPad. And vice versa. It’s one of those things that sounds a bit ho-hum until you actually use it. And then: holy shit. It’s basically magic.

I tried the feature right after updating all the devices we have at home, and yeah, once set up, like Siegler titled his post, “it just works.” We often mock Apple for using words like “magic” or “best ever” too often, but this truly feels like magic.

When you think about what it does exactly, it’s not that impressive really: “oh you just control another computer with the keyboard and trackpad of the first one?” The thing is, it was never really possible before, and if it was possible, it was definitely not as easy and seamless as it is with Universal Control. The technology, the set up, how it works, is completely invisible, and this is why it feels like magic: not really because of what it does, but because of how it does it.

But when will we use this? I suppose that like me, a lot of people just use the computer they want to do things and don’t need this feature. After all, it’s not that complicated to switch computer. For the iPad I can see the appeal if you don’t want to bother using the touchscreen or attach a keyboard accessory, you might as well control it with your current computer, but the use cases for Universal Control are quite limited I’d say. Maybe I’m missing something, but besides the first seconds of the wow-moment, I see the feature mainly as a party trick. For now.

Indeed, I think Universal Control is just a new step for Apple, continuing what was started with Handoff: the idea that all the Apple computers you own, including your watch, your earphones, your TV, etc., all behave like one supercomputer around you. Universal Control may be limited with the current collection of devices on sale today, but if this kind of seamless interconnection between them becomes a given, something that “just works” and that we don’t think about, things will become very interesting the day new families of devices come along: smart glasses, smart earphones, smart rings, etc.

In any case, it is always nice to witness the birth of a technological feature so obvious, so simple, and so well-done. On that front, once again, Apple delivered.

  1. While I was finishing editing this post, I noticed that the word counter of my text editing app — including the metadata — displayed “501 words.” 500ish indeed! (The joke is on me now because after adding the footnote the counter went up to 551.)↩︎