Universal Control and Sidecar in macOS: Which option is better?

Sidecar and Universal Control are two important tools that can help you improve your workflow. Its main premise – the ability to easily connect devices to each other – is similar, but Sidecar and Universal Control offer very different functions.

What is Universal Control?

Universal Control allows you to use the keyboard and mouse or the trackpad from one Mac to control another Mac and/or iPad. Additional devices are not used as external displays for the controlling Mac. Devices still work separately, but with Universal Control, you can jump between them as if they were one device.

With Universal Control between a Mac and an iPad, when you move the cursor towards the iPad with the mouse, a circular cursor appears on the screen so you can navigate the iPad interface as if you were using a Magic Keyboard. You can click to launch and use apps, and use the Mac keyboard to type and use keyboard shortcuts.

Universal control

With Universal Control between two Macs, you can control both machines using the same keyboard and mouse. You can even connect a Mac and an iPad to the primary Mac at the same time for a total of three connected platforms, all using the same input devices.

If you want to transfer files from a Mac to an iPad, you can drag them from one screen and drop them on another. Files can be dropped on the Mac desktop, but on iPad they must be dropped on an app icon or the Files app, as files can’t be dropped directly on a Home screen.

For example, if you want to share a photo, you can drag the image file from your Mac to iPad and then drop it into the Photos app.

Universal control

If you want to transfer files between two Macs or from an iPad to a Mac, you can drag and drop the file anywhere, including your desktop.

What devices can use Universal Control?

Universal Control is currently available in iPadOS 15.4 and macOS 12.3 (coming later this week). These are the Macs and iPads that can run Universal Control.

Universal Control-Macs

  • MacBook 2016 or later
  • MacBook Air 2018 or later
  • MacBook Pro 2016 or later
  • Mac mini 2018 or later
  • 21.5-inch iMac 2017 or later
  • 24-inch iMac released in 2021 or later
  • 27-inch iMac from Late 2015 or later
  • iMac Pro 2019 or later
  • Mac Pro 2019 and later

Control-Universal iPads

  • iPad 6th generation and later
  • iPad Air 3rd generation and later
  • iPad mini 5th generation and later
  • iPadPro

How is Universal Control configured?

Universal Control is turned on by default on Macs running macOS 12.3. To set up an iPad or another Mac to control, go to System Preferences and select Add Display to find your iPad and connect it to your Mac. If you don’t see it, make sure Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Handoff (Settings > General > AirPlay & Handoff > Handoff) are activated.

Once the iPad is connected, simply bring the iPad closer to the Mac to activate Universal Control. So when you move your Mac cursor near the edge of the Mac screen (whether with a file or just), a bar will appear on the edge of the iPad screen. Keep moving the cursor towards the iPad and it will jump to the other screen. You can see it in action in the following video.

What is Sidecar?

Sidecar allows you to use an iPad as an external display on a Mac. You don’t need to use any cables, everything is done wirelessly through AirPlay. Unlike Universal Control, Sidecar doesn’t let you access the connected iPad at all: you can’t use any files or apps.

Instead, your Mac’s desktop will be mirrored or stretched on your iPad so you can use Multi-Touch gestures. You can even use Apple Pencil, so, for example, you can be working in Adobe Photoshop on your Mac, use iPad as a Photoshop workspace, open a file in that workspace, and then use Apple Pencil to edit the file. File, Archive.

When using Sidecar, the iPad displays a sidebar to access modifier keys like Command, Option, and Shift. Sidecar also displays a Touch Bar on the top or bottom of the iPad that displays additional controls just like the physical Touch Bar on older MacBook Pros.

Universal control

Just like a full-size monitor, you can set the displays to mirror the first one on iPad, or set iPad as a display that extends your Mac desktop so you can have more windows open and available at a glance. . For example, you can have a browser open on your iPad screen and a Pages document you’re writing on your Mac’s home screen. The extended desktop is great for professional apps like Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, or Logic.

What devices can use Sidecar?

Sidecar requires a compatible Mac running macOS Catalina or later and a compatible iPad running iPadOS 13 or later. These are the Macs and iPads that can run Sidecar.

Sidecar-Macs

  • MacBook 2016 or later
  • MacBook Air 2018 or later
  • MacBook Pro 2016 or later
  • Mac mini 2018 or later
  • iMac 2015 or later
  • iMac Pro 2017 or later
  • Mac Pro 2019 or later

Sidecar-iPads

  • iPad 6th generation or later
  • iPad Air 3rd generation or later
  • iPad mini 5th generation or later
  • iPadPro

How is Sidecar configured?

Setting up Sidecar only takes two steps, as long as both devices are signed in to iCloud with the same Apple ID using two-factor authentication. On your Mac, select the Display arrow in the menu bar or the Screen Mirroring icon in Control Center. In the list, find the iPad you want to use as a secondary monitor and select it. This will connect your iPad to your Mac as a secondary display.

By default, your iPad will extend your Mac’s desktop. If you prefer to mirror your Mac’s desktop, go back to the Display menu and choose the option to mirror the screen. While using iPad, you can freely use touch gestures or Apple Pencil to control apps on Mac. There are also some settings on Mac, such as Show Sidebar, Show Touch Bar, and Enable Double Tap on Apple Pencil.

Should you use Universal Control or Sidecar?

Now that you know the difference, you can probably figure out for yourself when to use one over the other. If you’re still not sure, consider these scenarios:

  • You have an iPad app that you prefer to use instead of a Mac app
  • You have an iPad app that doesn’t have a Mac equivalent
  • You want to transfer files between devices and don’t want to use AirDrop, a cloud storage service, or an external storage device
  • You need to use two Macs and having a set of input devices is easier to manage

You’re doing hardware management and need to manage another Mac or iPad If you meet any of these criteria, you’ll want to use Universal Control. While it’s still very new, it’s a fantastic feature that could start to bridge the gap between the Mac and the iPad, while respecting the integrity of each device.

However, if you work primarily on a Mac and just want to extend your desktop or use touch gestures, Sidebar is the way to go. The Mac is usually the main production device, and all your software tools are on it. Having an additional screen makes work much easier.