App Development

iPad Adds Trackpad and Keyboard Support: What Does it Mean for Your App?

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A New U/I for a Familiar Device

The iPad recently turned ten years old, but all of the users that get the latest OS update will have a new way to interact with their devices — iPadOS 13.4 includes mouse and keyboard support. There will also be dedicated hardware released in the coming months that supports the new U/I. Apple and third party hardware providers are producing cases with trackpads and keyboards that will give users the option to convert their iPads from a tablet to a laptop form factor.

Why Does this Matter?

While this update is still new and there isn’t data or trends on how users are adopting it yet, it’s worth tracking over time because it represents a potential shift in how users engage with apps. Searches in the U.S. for “iPad keyboard with trackpad” have increased tenfold in the past month (Source: Google Trends, 2020). Native apps could replace web-based experiences on a user’s primary desktop device. For example, users will consider checking the news or streaming videos in iPadOS apps instead of using Chrome or Safari. We expect that the users most likely to use the new U/I and invest in the hardware are “work-from-home warriors,” early adopters, Apple enthusiasts, designers, artists, and architects.

What Should We Do?

  1. Test your app with a keyboard and trackpad. Perform a round of quality assurance testing on your app and competitors’ apps using the new UI. How does your app perform with a keyboard and trackpad (or a mouse)? Is scrolling smooth and fluid on pages and shelves? Is navigation within the app intuitive and user friendly? Check areas that rely on specific gestures, particularly any multi-finger gestures. “Pinch to zoom,” for example, could be problematic. Consider providing alternate gestures such as tapping to zoom in/out alongside more traditional dragging gestures. This image shows an iPad Pro paired with a Magic Mouse (source): ipados gif 1
  2. Use stock iOS and iPadOS development solutions when possible. By default, the operating system will convert trackpad interactions into touch events, which should bridge the gap in most stock U/I elements. Pay careful attention to special interaction gestures that have more complex requirements for being considered “valid.” As far as customization of the pointer appearance, Apple says “UIKit automatically handles pointer interactions if you’re using UIButton, UIBarButtonItem, or UISegmentedControl. If you use custom views to display your content, you must define pointer effects and styles yourself.” Here are examples from Apple that show supported interfaces. As always, you’ll want to carefully evaluate when it’s worth investing in custom UI vs. standard elements.
  3. Track usage over time. Observe whether or not the people adopting the trackpad and keyboard are a large percentage or an important subset of your users. Look for opportunities to track with your analytics and performance monitoring solutions. For key controls in the app (selecting filters / editing tools in a Photo Editing app for example), observe the touchType. Also consider user testing with an in-person focus group.
  4. Build a better user experience for trackpad users. If usage metrics show that your users are taking advantage of the ability to use a trackpad with their iPads, then consider adopting the Apple APIs to provide custom trackpad experiences. Leveraging these APIs will allow your app to feel more “at home” with system apps and provide richer experiences for these power users. One pointer interaction (featured below) we really like is a simple “highlight” that clearly indicates which elements are selected. Since certain pointer interactions are “magnetic” automatically, it’s not only easier for users to see what elements they are currently interacting with, but also easier to move from one item to the next without moving their cursor too far, which brings focus onto the next items that have pointer interactions enabled. Here’s a great sample app of different pointer interactions (source). ipados gif 2

For more information we recommend reviewing Apple’s iPadOS interface guidelines — the videos that show the pointer interactions and effects are particularly helpful. Want to talk more? Contact us at WillowTree.

Want to learn more? Get in touch with a WillowTree designer, strategist, or software engineer.

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