Apple Universal Control is different to Synergy

Thursday, February 10, 2022
Nick Bolton
Nick Bolton
Founder CEO & Interim-CTO of Symless (Synergy team)

Last year, in June, I wrote a post called "Apple copied us, and that's a good thing."

The post got a bit of heat last Tuesday from none other than Federico Viticci...

"This Synergy, thing... it cannot do what Universal Control can do!"

Ok, so, yes, Federico is not wrong.

He points out two very important distinctions on why Universal Control is not Synergy:

  1. Apple Universal Control supports iPad
  2. You don't need to install a new app

Check out the full podcast, where "the guys talk about Apple's recent betas", hosted by Founder and Editor-in-Chief of MacStories, and co-founders of Relay FM (Stephen Hackett and fellow Brit, Myke Hurley).

Why did you say Apple copied you?

Around the time of writing that post, I had a lot of fanatical (and worried) Synergy users messaging me... "Is this the end of Synergy?"

Incidentally, Federico's co-host had a take on my post title: "This is the thing you put up when your investors are getting a bit nervous, I think..."

Almost 🙂

Yes, I was indeed trying to put someone's mind at rest, but not investors (we actually don't have any).

Worried customers are a huge concern for any CEO. The last thing you want, as the leader of a company, is for your customers to worry about the business going under because the most valuable company in the world is encroaching on your market.

Was I concerned? Of course I was, what kind of irresponsible CEO would I be if I wasn't? In hindsight, perhaps I should have leaned into that and acknowledged the signs so it didn't appear that I was blind to them.

Where was the iPad mention?

What I didn't realise at the time, because I was looking at this from a desktop-to-desktop perspective, is that Apple's real game here isn't the same as what we're doing; it's something totally different. Apple's Think Different in full swing, you could say.

Apple isn't trying to enter the desktop-to-desktop market, they're inventing the device-to-device market. I think that Apple supporting Mac-to-Mac is just a happy coincidence; it's not their primary goal.

The amazing thing about Apple Universal Control is not that it can control one Mac from another Mac, and it's not the thing people are really talking about. It's that you can control your iPad from your Mac. Technically, Synergy for iOS has been done before, but because it wasn't out of the box (requires jailbreak) it didn't catch on.

Synergy and Apple Universal Control are not the same. They're similar, but Apple's thing breaks out of the confinements of desktop and does what we've always wanted to do at Symless; it controls a mobile device with a mouse and keyboard that's connected to a desktop computer.

We've had users asking us for over a decade now "When will Synergy support iOS?" to which our response has always been "We'd really love to, but Apple makes this... tricky to say the least." Will Apple ever allow an iPad to be controlled by a Windows computer? Who knows? But based on their track record, it's tough to say. Apple did introduce APIs back in the 90's to allow remote control of Macs, and that's exactly the API that Synergy uses. So, it's not impossible, but we could be waiting a while for Apple to make the API available.

The alternative is for us to ship a hardware device...

So, how do you guys really feel?

We're still super excited!

While Apple will take away some of our customers (who are Mac-to-Mac only), they're enlightening many more people about the idea of using two computers at the same time.

This will inevitably normalise the idea, taking it from being niche, to being mainstream.

February 10, 2022
Nick Bolton
 (revised on 

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