Buried deep in the Settings of iOS 13 and iPadOS is a surprising little secret: Support for Bluetooth mice. If you’ve ever dreamt of turning your iPad or iPhone into a deconstructed laptop via Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, this won’t fulfill your fantasy. However, the feature does work and you can absolutely use a mouse with Apple mobile devices.
Before we get started, let me make clear that I am not an expert on Accessibility needs. I am an able-bodied individual, and this is written entirely from the perspective of a user curious about trying out a new feature. If you’re looking for detailed information on how to use Accessibility features to meet a specific need, this article probably isn’t your best option. Still, I hope it may at least give all users an idea of what it takes to get the feature working and a broad understanding of what it actually does (and doesn’t) do.
How to Pair a Mouse to an iPad or iPhone
To get started, you’ll need an Apple device running either iOS 13 or iPadOS. Both of these are currently available in a public beta, and won’t be released until the autumn of 2019. It’s possible that these features will work very differently or might not even be available initially when iOS 13 and iPadOS eventually release. That’s just the nature of beta software. Still, Apple’s public betas are usually pretty well baked, and the features seemed stable enough in my ad hoc tests.
Once you’re running the right software, you’ll need to get a Bluetooth mouse. As near as I can tell, any mouse will do. In my testing, I used an aged Apple Magic Mouse, which surprisingly posed some unique problems that I’ll describe below. You should be able to use any Apple device that can run iOS 13 or iPadOS. I used an iPhone XR and a 5th generation iPad—proving that even an older device can play nice with mice.
Make sure your Bluetooth mouse isn’t already paired with another device. If it is, unpair it, and then reset the mouse so it enters pairing mode. How you unpair it will depend on your mouse and whatever it’s paired to. If your mouse is paired to Mac, open the Bluetooth settings, hover over the mouse, and then click the X that appears next to its name. Now, it’s ready to pair with an iPhone or iPad.
On either your iPhone or iPad, open the Settings app and navigate to the Accessibility section.
Tap the Touch section, and then tap the AssistiveTouch option at the top.
On the next screen, toggle AssistiveTouch on.
A small white circle should appear on the screen. This is normal. You can tap this AssistiveTouch home button to carry out many iOS and iPadOS tasks one-handed.
In the AssistiveTouch panel of the Settings app, scroll down to Pointing Devices and tap it.
On the next screen, tap Bluetooth Devices. On this panel, you should see a list of available Bluetooth devices to pair with. Look for your Bluetooth mouse and tap on it. Within a few seconds, it should be paired. If you want to unpair your mouse, you’ll have to go to Settings>Bluetooth, and tap on the blue letter “i” icon next to your device, and then tap Forget This Device.
In my testing, I noticed that I had to reboot the devices before they recognized the mouse I wanted to pair. Hopefully this will work more reliably in the final release. I also had some trouble with nearby Apple computers trying to pair automatically with my mouse. I suggest either powering off your Macs, or plugging/pairing another mouse to placate their need.
Note that if you, like me, are trying to pair an older Apple Magic Mouse, you may be prompted to enter a PIN code after pairing the device. Apparently, these older devices have a hardcoded PIN of 0000. I entered this and it paired without issue.
In the Pointing Devices panel where you paired your mouse, you can tap on your mouse to see more options. Either button on a standard two-button mouse can be programmed to do a number of tasks, from the standard single-tap to a pinch action, and many others besides.
More options are available from the AssistiveTouch screen. From the Cursor section, you can opt for a larger mouse cursor to appear on screen. You can also change the color for the cursor from the default gray.
Further down the AssistiveTouch panel is an option for tracking speed, which controls have fast your mouse travels across the screen. I found the default setting to be far too fast for me to cope with, so I shifted it toward the tortoise option.
There are many more settings in AssistiveTouch and the Accessibility menus, but this covers the basics.
What it’s Like to Mouse on an iPad or iPhone
Watching a mouse cursor zoom across the screen of an iPad was a thoroughly bizarre experience for me. It felt weird, and kind of wrong—even more so when I tried it out on the iPhone. Once my emotions settled down a bit, I still had some trouble using a mouse with an iPad and iPhone.
For one thing, it’s probably better to think of it less as a computer mouse and more of a remote finger. Your mouse cursor can only interact with your screen the same way your finger does. It can tap, it can drag, but it can’t batch select items on your desktop. You can, however, use your mouse cursor to do swipe gestures, like a swipe down to open the Notification Center.
I also found that I couldn’t click and drag over text to highlight it. Instead, I had to double click (or, really, double tap) on a line of text that would highlight the entire section. I could then grab the paddles on either side of the selected area to trim it down.
Some swipe gestures are harder to pull off than others. Swiping up from the bottom of an app to close it, or open the lock screen, proved very difficult. I often clicked on the AssistiveTouch circle to access a virtual Home Button instead.
I’m not an artist, nor do I have extensive experience using the Apple Pencil. That said, I don’t see iOS/iPadOS mouse support as a cheaper alternative to Apple’s custom stylus. I don’t feel like it has enough control to do fine line work. It’s also difficult to take advantage of the pressure-sensitive brushes and shapes that are available when you use the Apple Pencil or your finger.
After using a
mouse Bluetooth Pointer on an iPad and an iPhone, it’s clear that this isn’t really a superior alternative to using a digit if you’re able. It’s very good for navigating your phone and interacting with apps without using your hand directly, and as an Accessibility feature, that makes a lot of sense. If you’re looking for a traditional desktop experience using a mouse on an iPad or iPhone, this isn’t it. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now, this feature is designed to fulfill the needs of Accessibility users, not to emulate a desktop.