How to use Apple’s iPad Magic Keyboard

Here's what you need to know to get the best out of Apple's new Magic Keyboard for iPad.

Apple, iOS, iPad, iPad OS, iPad Pro,
Leif Johnson/IDG

Got yourself one of those new-fangled Magic Keyboards for the iPad Pro to use while working remotely? Go, you! Here’s what you need to know to get the best out of it, best read alongside my earlier iPad productivity guide.

How to wake it up

Press any key to wake your iPad. Press a key once more to get to the Lock screen, where you can unlock the tablet with your passcode or Face ID.

How to adjust the viewing angle

Apple’s new keyboard makes your iPad feel a little like the G4 iMac, in that you can tilt your tablet up or down until you find your ideal viewing angle.

One thing it doesn’t do well is tilt to a drawing angle, prompting some on the Internet to note that if you turn the device so the keyboard faces away from you and prop the lip of the iPad just above the trackpad you get a kind of unofficial "drawing angle." (Take a look at the image above for how this works.)

How to get to the software keyboard with the hardware connected

There may be times when the software (on screen) keyboard is more useful than the Magic Keyboard. Rather than disconnect the physical keyboard just tap the down arrow on the physical keyboard and then touch and hold the downward pointing arrow at the bottom right of the screen that you see. The software keyboard appears.

Tap the keyboard icon to get back to using Magic Keyboard.

What is still the most useful iPad tip?

Every iPad app may have its own set of keyboard shortcuts. These tend to be relatively generic, but it is worth familiarizing yourself with shortcuts specific to the apps you most regularly use. To find out what these are, press the Command key on your physical keyboard while in any app.

What are the essential Magic Keyboard commands?

There are some essential commands you should learn:

  • Command-H: Get to the Home screen.
  • Command-Space: Show/hide search.
  • Command-Tab: Switch to the next most recently used app.
  • Command-Shift-3: Take a screenshot.
  • Command-Shift-4: Grab a screenshot and open it in Markup.
  • Command-Option-D: Show or hide the Dock.

How many of these shortcuts do you also use on your Mac?

How do I use the Magic Keyboard trackpad?

Magic Keyboard gives your iPad a way to understand trackpad gestures. Some are pretty obvious such as opening apps with a tap or pressing and holding to activate long press, others less so. Here are some examples.

1-finger tips

  • Move the cursor to the top right to open Control Center.
  • Move the cursor to the top left to open Notification Center.
  • Move cursor to the bottom of the display to find the Dock.
  • Long press when editing test to select.

2-finger tips

  • Two finger swipe down: Invoke Spotlight.
  • Use pinch gestures to zoom in and out of items on screen.
  • Scrolling webpages in Safari by swiping two-fingers on your trackpad.
  • Tap selected text with two fingers to invoke Cut, Copy or Paste.

3-finger tips

  • Swipe down with three fingers to reach the Home screen.
  • A three-finger swipe up opens multitasking view.
  • A three-finger swipe up and hold to get to App view.
  • A three-finger swipe left or right will switch between your open apps.

Where is my Escape key?

No Escape key? No problem:

Tap Command-. (Command-period), which invokes Escape on both Mac and iPad.

If you want something more reliable, then hook the keyboard up to your iPad and:

  • Open Settings>General>Keyboard.
  • Select Hardware Keyboard.
  • Choose Modifier Keys.

Follow the on-screen prompts to select a modifier key you want to use as an Escape key. I use keyboards in multiple languages, so I tend to use Caps Lock as an Escape key. I wouldn’t recommend using the other keys for this as you already use them.

How to change the default cursor

You can tweak the round cursor’s contrast, color, size, and scrolling speed. You can also set the cursor so it is always visible on screen, rather than only appearing when you touch the trackpad. You’ll find these in Settings>Accessibility>Pointer Control.

How to control your iPad completely with the keyboard

You can use your keyboard for almost every task you do on your iPad thanks to a setting hidden inside Accessibility called Full Keyboard Access.

You get to it in Settings>Accessibility>Keyboards>Full Keyboard Access.

When enabled you navigate your iPad using arrow keys and shortcuts – tap Tab-H to bring up the complete list of comands.

What about ‘Tap to click’?

There’s a couple of other items some users may want to use. Tap to click and secondary click. You’ll find toggle controls for both of these in Settings>General>Trackpad.

  • Tap to click means the trackpad will register a tap as a click, rather than needing to press a little harder to make it click.
  • Two-finger click acts like a long press on the iPad touchscreen. With this feature enabled you will tap with two fingers on the trackpad to get to the contextual menu for a selected app on the Home screen, for example.

How to adjust Magic Keyboard brightness

Apple has put lots of intelligence inside its system, which uses ambient light sensors to effectively manage display and backlit keyboard brightness.

One thing it hasn’t added is brightness control key for those times when you want to override your device’s choices (such as when watching a movie using Safari).

To access this, open Settings>General>Keyboard>Hardware Keyboard and use the Keyboard Brightness slider.

One more thing: Get a USB-C hub

Power your connected iPad Pro using the USB-C port on the side of the keyboard, and then use the port on your tablet to connect to other accessories, including external storage or displays. Better yet, hook it up to a hub you leave connected to everything you use in your office/home for convenient access to this stuff.

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