How to control iPad pointer with the keyboard

Control iPad pointer with the keyboard - hero image

To control the iPad pointer with the keyboard, you must enable and configure Mouse Keys, a cool assistive feature in iOS and iPadOS 13.4. While moving the pointer with your connected mouse or trackpad trumps using the keyboard, sometimes you need high movement precision, such as when doing some pixel-perfect editing in apps like Pixelmator or Adobe Photoshop. Aside from moving the pointer left, right, up, down and diagonally, the keys on the connected keyboard simulate mouse actions like clicking, releasing or holding the button. Without further ado, follow along with our step-by-step tutorial for detailed instructions on setting up Mouse Keys on your device, which will allow you to control the iPad pointer with the keyboard.

Introducing Mouse Keys

Apple is calling this cool feature Mouse Keys.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Mouse Keys has been present in macOS for several years now. Mouse Keys for macOS and Mouse Keys for iOS both serve the same purpose — as an assistive technology, the feature was primary designed for people with motor skill issues who may find it challenging to control the pointer by moving their finger across the trackpad.

TUTORIAL: Changing behavior of Mac’s Control, Option, Command and Caps Lock keys

It’s also a great option for folks who simply need precise pointer control when working in complex creative apps. Mouse Keys for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch was launched as part of the iOS and iPadOS 13.4 software updates which released commercially on March 24.

Control iPad pointer with the keyboard - iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard with trackpad

Follow along with the step-by-step tutorial below for tips on how to control iPad pointer with the keyboard keys or keys on a numeric keypad, if your physical keyboard has the number pad.

How to control iPad pointer via the keyboard

Before you can use a physical keyboard to control your pointer, you must first turn on the Mouse Keys assistive option in Settings. We’ll also cover the keyboard shortcuts for Mouse Keys and adjusting the feature to your liking by changing the available settings.

How to enable Mouse Keys

Mouse Keys is part of the AssistiveTouch features designed for people who have difficulty touching the screen or require an adaptive accessory. As mentioned earlier, it’s also great for pro users and creative types who need to precisely control iPad pointer with the keyboard.

Control iPad pointer with the keyboard - onscreen pointer
Mouse Keys lets you use a keyboard to control the pointer

To enable the Mouse Keys feature on your iPad with iPadOS 13.4+ or your iPhone and iPod touch with iOS 13.4+, follow the steps below:

  1. Open Settings on your device.
  2. Choose Accessibility from the root list.
  3. Select Touch.
  4. Tap AssistiveTouch at the very top of the list.
  5. On the next screen, enable AssistiveTouch at the top.
  6. Disable Always Show Menu underneath the heading Pointer Devices. Doing so tells the operating system to hide the AssistiveTouch’s special onscreen menu when a pointer device like a trackpad or mouse is connected. You’re also recommended to change Idle Opacity of the AssistiveTouch onscreen menu to the lowest value (15 percent).
  7. Now tap Mouse Keys underneath the heading Pointer Devices.
  8. Finally, slide the toggle next to Mouse Keys to the ON position to enable the feature.

You can also quickly toggle Mouse Keys on-the-fly by pressing the Option (⌥) key on the connected keyboard five times in a quick succession, as explained later in this tutorial.

Conversely, toggle off the Mouse Keys button to disable the feature.

Control iPad pointer with the keyboard - Mouse Key enabled
Note that AssistiveTouch must be enabled for Mouse Keys to work

“Mouse Keys allows the pointer to be controlled using the keyboard keys or number pad,” according to the feature’s description.

How to use Mouse Keys

With Mouse Keys enabled, you can control the mouse pointer with keys on your Mac’s keyboard or a numbered pad. Using just the regular keys, you can move the pointer left, right, up, down and diagonally for as long as the Mouse Keys feature is active.

Once it’s off, the keys switch back to their normal functions.

Here’s the full list of the Mouse Keys keyboard shortcuts for your convenience:

  • Move the mouse pointer
    • Numeric keypad: 7, 8, 9, 4, 6, 1, 2 and 3
    • Keyboard: 7, 8, 9, U, O, J, K and L
  • Click the mouse button
    • Numeric keypad: 5
    • Keyboard: I
  • Hold the mouse button
    • Numeric keypad: 0 (zero)
    • Keyboard: M
  • Release the mouse button
    • Numeric keypad: “.” (period)
    • Keyboard: “.” (period)

Proceed to the next section to learn about Mouse Key customization.

How to change Mouse Keys settings

Apple allows you to customize the Mouse Keys feature to your liking, including enabling the built-in global keyboard shortcut, adjusting how Mouse Keys moves the pointer, controlling whether the onscreen keyboard appears and more.

Follow the steps below to change your Mouse Keys settings:

  1. Open Settings on your device.
  2. Choose Accessibility from the root list.
  3. Select Touch.
  4. Tap AssistiveTouch at the very top of the list.
  5. Choose Mouse Keys underneath the heading Pointer Devices.

Make your adjustments on this screen.

Control iPad pointer with the keyboard - Mouse Key settings

The following settings can be customized:

  • Option Key Toggle: Save yourself from having to tap your way to the Mouse Keys settings every time you want to turn the feature on or off. When this is on, quickly press the Option (⌥) key on your physical keyboard five times to toggle Mouse Keys.
  • Use Primary Keyboard: Enabled by default, this determines whether you can control Mouse Keys with your primary keyboard, in addition to a numbered keypad that always gets used. If your physical keyboard has a numeric keypad, disabling this feature lets you type normally on the keyboard (the 7, 8, 9, U, I, O, J, K and L keys won’t pass input to Mouse Keys) while being able to control the pointer with a number pad.
  • Initial Delay: Choose the initial delay before the pointer starts moving by pushing the slider closer to the right to shorten the delay (move it all the way to the right for no delay) or to the left if you’d like to increase the delay.
  • Maximum Speed: Moving this slider to the left or right side determines how fast the pointer moves when being controlled with the keyboard keys.

Unfortunately, there’s no option to use inertia with Mouse Keys.

Typing on the onscreen keyboard with Mouse Keys

iOS automatically hides the stock onscreen keyboard when a physical one is connected. You can easily switch between your hardware and software keyboards on the fly or choose to always show the onscreen keyboard when using Mouse Keys.

TUTORIAL: How to switch between hardware and software keyboards on the fly

To do the latter, venture to Settings → Accessibility → Touch and enable the option Show Onscreen Keyboard found underneath the heading Pointer Devices.

Control iPad pointer with the keyboard - show onscreen keyboard selected
Enable this to type on the virtual keyboard with Mouse Keys

Now you can use the Mouse Keys keyboard shortcuts, or a pointer device, to type on the onscreen keyboard while a physical keyboard is connected to the device.

Switching software and hardware keyboards

By default, connecting a hardware keyboard to your device disables the stock onscreen keyboard provided by the operating system. As explained in our separate tutorial, you can switch between the software and hardware keyboard on the fly.

If you need to use the onscreen keyboard when the physical keyboard is connected to the device, tap the down arrow key on the physical keyboard to bring up text controls, then touch and hold the chevron near the bottom-right corner to bring up the software keyboard.

When you’re done using the software keyboard, you can get back to using its hardware counterpart quickly: tap the bottom-right icon on the onscreen keyboard which resembles a keyboard with a downwardly-pointed arrow to dock the software keyboard.

The awesome Full Keyboard Access feature

Speaking of accessibility, another cool new feature in iPadOS 13.4 lets you control your Apple tablet and the entirety of the iPadOS user interface with an external keyboard using new accessibility shortcuts, grouped under a new section dubbed Full Keyboard Access.

Control iPad with the keyboard - Full Keyboard Access Home screen image

This feature uses a focus rectangle to indicate the currently selected onscreen element which will receive input from you. Full Keyboard Access includes a bunch of keyboard shortcuts that you can remap to your liking, even assigning your Shortcuts scripts to a custom keystroke.

Control iPad with the keyboard - Full Keyboard Access customizing keyboard shortcuts

Features like the Notification and Control Center, and device actions like restarting, can be executed without problems via keyboard gestures available with Full Keyboard Access.

TUTORIAL: How to view available keyboard shortcuts in Mac apps

To learn more about Full Keyboard Access and how to use it, peruse our dedicated tutorial.

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