If you need any more evidence that the iPad is becoming more like the Mac, take a quiet addition to iPadOS: Full Keyboard Access with keyboard shortcuts. The feature is new to the iPad with iPadOS (and iOS13), but has been available on the Mac for some time.
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Basically, it’s an Accessibility feature that should help users navigate their iPads more efficiently without touch input. But Full Keyboard Access could also come in handy for any iPadOS user.
With that in mind, here’s what you should know about the feature.
What is Full Keyboard Access?
Full Keyboard Access lets you navigate the iPadOS user interface (UI) without using touch inputs. That means you can switch between screens, open apps and do just about anything else using nothing but a keyboard.
As we mentioned, Full Keyboard Access has been available on macOS for quite some time. But now that it’s on iPadOS, it could open up accessibility and general productivity opportunities for iPad’s tablet lineup.
How to set up Full Keyboard Access on your iPad
Note: You’ll need an external hardware keyboard to use Full Keyboard Access — something like a Bluetooth or wired keyboard. You won’t be able to use these controls with the built-in virtual iPadOS keyboard.
To first activate Full Keyboard Access, you’ll need to need to navigate to the new Accessibility section in iPadOS.
- Open the Settings app on your iPad
- Tap on Accessibility
- Navigate to Keyboard
- From here, tap on Full Keyboard Access under the Hardware Keyboards subheading
- Tap the toggle next to Full Keyboard Access
Once the feature is activated, you can now use an external hardware keyboard to navigate your iPad.
If you don’t see these options on your iPad, you likely do not use iPadOS (iOS13+). To check, go to Settings > General > About > Software Version.
Keyboard common commands & customization
Full Keyboard Access takes a little getting used to, but it’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it.
For instance, you’ll use the tab keys and the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate between various UI features — including apps on the Home screen or buttons within an app. Tab and Left Arrow is left, tab and right arrow is right, and so on.
To activate something, just hit the Space bar. This works basically like a single tap input. You’ll open apps this way or tap on buttons within a menu. If you want to enter a “container,” like an app folder, press tab and A. Exiting the container is done with Tab and Q.
Here are a few other useful commands for your iPad with iPadOS
- Siri: Tab + Option + S
- App Switcher: Tab + Command + A
- Control Center: Tab + Command + C
- Notification Center: Tab + Command +N
- Reboot: Tab + Command + R.
- Lock Screen: Tab + L
But that’s not all.
All of these keyboard commands are completely user mappable. That means you’ll be able to assign each quick command to a specific key if you don’t like the way Apple has set up the feature.
To map new commands on iPadOS
- Navigate to Settings —> Accessibility —> Keyboards —> Full Keyboard Access
- Then, tap on the Commands button in this menu
- From here, you’ll see a full list of the shortcuts and commands baked into the Full Keyboard Access feature
- Tap on any command to set a new keyboard shortcut
- You’ll see a new menu pop up — just enter your shortcut
- Hit Done when it’s been registered
How can you use iPadOS Full Keyboard Access
First and foremost, Full Keyboard Access is meant to allow for people with different abilities to use their iPads to their fullest extent. Based on the capabilities of the platform, the feature appears to do just that.
But Full Keyboard Access could also come in handy for any iPadOS user — and it might take a bit of creative thinking to figure out how it could help boost your productivity.
For example, if the touch sensitive component on your iPad is broken or malfunctioning, you could still get full usability out of your iPad with an external keyboard.
(It’s also worth noting that Full Keyboard Access is available in iOS 13, too. That means you’ll be able to use it to make at least make a phone call if your iPhone’s touch display is glitching out.)
If you’re much more comfortable navigating an OS with a keyboard — say you’re a power user or a Linux command terminal wizard — using Full Keyboard Access could potentially bump up how fast you can use iPadOS.
Even Apple admits that reaching up and touching a display is a bit tiring. It’s probably more ergonomic and quicker to learn to use Full Keyboard Access to get around iPadOS.
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.