Trackpad mode in iOS 9

One of the many reasons I’m writing this post on my MacBook Pro (with MarsEdit) as opposed to my iPad Air 2 or my new iPhone 6s is because I prefer a hardware keyboard and a trackpad or even better, a mouse, for moving the cursor/insertion point around and selecting text. Over the years, text editing in iOS has improved but its still awkward compared with doing it on a Mac.

in iOS 9, Apple has added a feature that helps quite a bit. If you’ve got any iPad or iPhone running iOS 9 (except the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus which I’ll discuss in a minute) try this:

Run any app that uses Apple’s standard on-screen keyboard.

Type some text.

Place two fingertips anywhere on the on-screen keyboard and press down lightly, the keyboard will dim and turn into a trackpad (trackpad mode). This will initially take a bit of practice as there are two gestures possible here.

A touch with a shorter duration will allow you to move the cursor by dragging your two fingers across the keyboard/trackpad. A touch with a slightly longer duration will allow you to drag/select text from the initial touch point to another (like shift clicking text in Mac OS).

This is a brilliant use of multi-touch and once you get used to it it really works.

If you have an iOS device with a “force touch” or 3D Touch screen (at this point the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus), you can do this a bit differently and more easily.

Run any app that uses Apple’s standard on-screen keyboard.

Type some text.

With a single finger, press down firmly on the keyboard and you’ll feel the “taptic feedback” of 3D Touch kicking in, the keyboard will dim (trackpad mode) and you can drag the cursor around with your finger. Once in this mode to select a single word, move the cursor over a word and press a bit more firmly, the word will highlight. If you release pressure and drag up, down, left or right you can select larger chunks of text. This is taking some practice for me to get but I’m getting it.

These kinds of details are great to know about and while I’ll continue to do most of my writing on my Mac because I’m more comfortable with its hardware keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and Mac OS text editing conventions which I’ve been using since 1984, these kinds of features which make great use of multi-touch will allow me to use my iOS devices a bit more for informal writing where I might have avoided them.

For more on this including a video (with obnoxious music): How to use iOS 9’s keyboard as a trackpad with 3D Touch on iPhone 6s.

Here’s another post on Trackpad mode: On trackpad mode in iOS 9 and the iPhone.


    1. Yes, I agree. While I use mine for a bit more, it’s not much more than reading only. I am, however writing this comment on it although the onscreen keyboard sucks. I did just fix a mistake in sentence one of this comment with the two finger trackpad mode I described. Worked like a charm.

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