One set of mouse and keyboard controls multiple Macs and iPads. How does Apple do it?

If you want to give a cheering moment to the WWDC 2021 Developers Conference, the scene where Apple demonstrates the universal control function will inevitably be one of them.

With Apple's senior vice president Craig sliding the mouse, the cursor slid seamlessly from the Mac to the iPad Pro, and the pictures on the iPad can be directly dragged through the MacBook Pro, and finally to the keynote page in the iMac.

It seems that universal control is like a black technology that has opened up several devices. A set of mouse and keyboard can control multiple devices, but in fact, this function is not as complicated as imagined. It is a new expansion of Apple based on the relay function.

Seamlessly control Mac and iPad, how does universal control work?

To know the principle of general control, we still have to look at its basic requirements.

According to the instructions on Apple's official website, universal control is only available to some Macs and iPads, and it also requires Bluetooth, WiFi, and relay functions to be turned on. The connected devices must use the same Apple ID with two-factor authentication to log in to iCloud.

Does it feel familiar? Previously, the requirements for functions such as AirDrop and Sidecar are very close to general control. Among them, the core Bluetooth and WiFi are now the basic technologies for near field communication between devices.

The 10-meter effective distance of the universal control function is also evidence. Although Bluetooth can achieve fast and low-power connections, the stability of the device will be reduced if the connection distance is too wide, especially when there are many devices, it is easy to be interfered.

On the basis of these two technologies, Apple has further developed the relay function, which optimizes the connection stability and reduces the delay. In answering the question of the foreign media The verge, Apple also stated that general control is based on continuous intercommunication and relay functions.

▲ Based on continuous intercommunication, Apple introduced a series of functions

The two major features of universal control seamless switching of devices and file transfer have also appeared in other Apple devices before, such as AirPods Pro, which can seamlessly switch between Mac and iPad and iPhone.

In essence, the seamless switching is still through Bluetooth connection and Apple ID authentication device, but based on the advantages of software and hardware integration, Apple does not need to manually switch the connection, but automatically determines the connection.

Specifically in terms of general control functions, when sliding the mouse to switch, the Mac or iPad will display a sidebar at the edge of the screen, indicating that the user is now in the switching state, continue to slide the mouse to complete the switch and determine that it is connected to another device in.

If it is a MacBook Pro with its own keyboard, the keyboard will also be connected at the same time. You can use the MacBook Pro keyboard to control the iPad. The iPad’s Magic Keyboard is a full-size keyboard like the Mac, and there will be no problems with shortcut support.

Craig dragged pictures from the iPad and dropped them into the iMac's keynote, also using a function similar to AirDrop. When transferring small files such as pictures, the transmission speed of AirDrop is fast enough, so there will be no waiting screens.

If you drag and drop a relatively large file directly, there should still be a progress bar or similar indication.

In fact, what is more worth looking forward to is that in the future Apple will apply ultra-wideband (UWB) technology to it. As early as on the iPhone 11, Apple added the U1 chip that supports this technology. It has better connection stability and transmission speed than Bluetooth technology. , Obviously can take the experience to a new level.

Take the drag and drop transfer of files as an example. With the U1 chip AirDrop, the transfer speed has been greatly improved, and even the number of connected devices in the future can exceed the limit of 3 units.

At the same time, because the ultra-wideband technology uses a way similar to radar ranging to send and receive signals and transmit data, it has better recognition accuracy in a small area, so that the three devices do not have to be particularly accurately placed in a row. The position can be more arbitrary.

Of course, general control is not without problems. For example, there may be interaction conflicts between the side dragging judgment connection and the Mac side Dock bar function. The Verge also mentioned this when communicating with Apple.

▲ I am also used to placing the dock on the side with an external extended monitor, and sliding the mouse to the right can switch to the secondary screen.

This may be the reason why General Control was not open for testing in the first beta system.

Another breakthrough in the ease of use and efficiency of multiple devices

There are not no products on the market that can control multiple devices with a mouse. Logitech has a variety of mice that support Logitech Flow, and Microsoft’s precision mice support multiple device switching.

In comparison, the advantage of universal control lies in the simultaneous keyboard and mouse switching and file drag and drop transmission, which has more functions and opens up the ecology of Mac and iPad. In essence, these two products are still different categories.

When using general control, the interaction between Mac and iPad is unified, and the design styles of the two systems are becoming more and more similar. People's control learning costs can be significantly reduced, and the two types of devices can be used faster and better.

Among them, drag and drop is one of the main interaction methods for general control of multiple devices, which also improves the usability and efficiency of the product.

It is similar to touch interaction, and the operation is more intuitive. Drag and drop is like picking up and dropping this skill that we have practiced countless times.

Moreover, the universal control also makes good use of the advantages of the multiple screens of the Mac and iPad. For example, the Mac and the iPad are each a window. Dragging and dropping is like dealing with multitasking, displaying more content, and making the interaction between windows more convenient. higher efficiency.

Compared with the traditional workflow, transferring files between iPad and Mac or acting as a secondary screen, either requires wires or needs to be manually switched multiple times. It is easy to interrupt the focused work state, and the efficiency is not high.

At this time, the general control is powerful, and you can quickly switch or transfer files by sliding and dragging, and it is software-level transmission.

The addition of universal control allows Mac and iPad to truly combine and become stronger. They can also be "beautiful" separately. Now the Mac has switched to the ARM architecture and has part of the software ecosystem on the iPad, but the two still have different ways of interacting. There is also the possibility of their respective advantages.

Take the WWDC demo clip as an example. With the support of Apple Pencil, iPad is more suitable for drawing creation than Mac. After the drawing is completed, the mouse slides and drags, and the files are transferred from the iPad to the Mac. A category of equipment has the best interpretation of the concept of "the most suitable work for it."

Of course, a set of keyboard and mouse controls multiple devices can also reduce the amount of accessories that users buy. After all, Apple's official keyboard and mouse accessories have a better experience, but the price is also not low.

▲ The price of Magic Keyboard is not cheap

The reason why wirelessization is considered to be the future trend is that on the one hand, it reduces the aesthetics of cables and saves a lot of accessory costs. On the other hand, it makes better use of the advantages of multiple devices and forms, and improves ease of use and efficiency huge.

This is also the most important quality of computers as a productivity or efficiency device.

Before the arrival of the world on the cloud

After Apple announced the universal control, many users mentioned a concept called "maximum utilization of computing power" in social media discussions such as Weibo and Zhihu, which is to make full use of the computing power of iPad and Mac to keep them in their current form. Maximize the use of computing power, and each can efficiently complete the work that they are good at.

After all, the current iPad is more like a creative tool or productivity aid, even if it has used the desktop M1 chip.

This is actually related to cloudification, which is widely regarded as a future trend, such as Alibaba Cloud Service and Amazon Cloud Service, where large-scale enterprises purchase large computing power equipment and transmit content or exchange information through the network.

Then local computers and other equipment can reduce the demand for computing power cores such as Soc chips, and further liberate product form and battery life.

▲ The M1 chip with lower energy consumption and higher performance also further liberated the product form

Of course, judging from the current situation, the consumer-level cloud experience is not good enough. Cloud gaming is the best case. The network delay and cost are still not at a relatively good level, but this does not prevent us from moving forward to this established level. future development.

Cloud-based applications are popular, and what will consumer-grade devices become after the liberation of computing power? Universal control is actually a good answer. It is more like preparations before the arrival of the world on the cloud.

After the computing power goes to the cloud, the most important factor in people's choice of computer products is the form and interaction. At this stage, the form and interaction of the product are basically fixed, whether it is a mouse or a touch.

The universal control is just in the case of product interaction and fixed form, which will bring their advantages to a higher level. The light and convenient iPad will be used for entertainment. At this time, touch interaction is more intuitive and convenient than keyboard and mouse.

At work, efficiency is often emphasized. At this time, the Mac with mouse and keyboard interaction becomes the main tool, and the iPad is used as a light auxiliary tool to provide creative materials or as a secondary screen to improve efficiency.

In this way, the distribution of computing power in different scenarios will be better, entertainment has low requirements for computing, and the distribution of computing power is lower. Work requires high computing power, and the distribution is better, even when multiple devices are coordinated. It can also allocate appropriate computing power to different devices.

Universal control allows Mac and iPad to have a better way of collaboration, which makes it easier and more efficient to distribute computing power, and to prepare for the future of cloud-based applications.

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