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How to Use an iPad as a Second Screen Display

Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast


Why You Need an iPad as a Second Display

Dual screens are popular with productivity gurus, but anyone can benefit from using their iPad as a second display. The ability to view multiple applications at once means you can see more at one time and be more efficient while working on your computer. It also means you can set up different workspaces on each screen.

Imagine having email and Slack open on your iPad’s screen while you are simultaneously working on an Excel spreadsheet on your Mac. You can quickly move between the two screens to find and organize all the information you need for your spreadsheet. The same can be said for research projects, presentations, company reports and more. A second screen is just a handy thing to have access to if you are working with multiple applications at one time.

Of course, you don't need an iPad to achieve all of this extra productivity goodness. Many people simply purchase an additional monitor. However, if you already have an iPad at home, you can save yourself that extra expense. You will also gain the benefit of having a portable, lightweight monitor that you can throw in your bag to use at a coffee shop or the library with no extra effort. Here's how.

Duet Display for iPad

Created by ex-Apple engineers, Duet Display is perhaps the most flexible option for dual-screen wannabes because it works on both Mac and Windows devices. It's also easy to set up, but it's not without its limitations.

To get started, download and install Duet Display for Mac or PC. This program is a free download that can easily be found at Next, install the $10 Duet Display app on your iPad, and connect your tablet to your computer with a lightning or USB-C cable. When you launch the iPad app, you will be connected to your computer and can use your second display for whatever you need. Simply drag the windows you need to your iPad and interact with them using your computer's keyboard and mouse.

With Duet Pro, you can add the ability to use an Apple Pencil and touch gestures to control the applications that you move to your iPad's screen. This means your iPad can become a high-performance drawing tablet that can interact with desktop applications like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketchbook and more. It could potentially replace a Wacom tablet, or similar, by letting you draw directly into the graphics application you are working with. Duet Pro is $30 per year, or $3.99 a month and is available as an in-app purchase from the iPad app.

If you prefer to go wireless, Duet Air gives you the ability to use your iPad as a remote desktop client, or as a wireless second display. It uses bank-grade levels of encryption, promises zero lag, and comes with a touchbar to help you navigate your Mac or PC. Duet Air is $20 annually or $1.99 a month.

Duet Display Demo

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Luna Display for iPad

The engineers at Luna Display took a different approach. They created a dongle that you plug into your Mac. It costs $69.99, but the iPad app is free, so it's a one-off purchase for everything you need to get started. Simply connect your Mac and your iPad to the same WiFi network, then launch the Luna Display iPad app to get started. If you are in an area where there is no WiFi available, you can connect your iPad to your Mac via USB.

Luna Display has full touch support, meaning your iPad basically acts like a touch screen Mac when it is connected. It even supports the Apple Pencil, but if you need pressure sensitivity for drawing, you will need to use their sister product, Astropad. A touch screen Mac might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly makes sense on the iPad screen and, like Duet Display Pro, a toolbar is included to help you navigate around.

Another interesting use case is the ability to use Luna Display to have your iPad act as a monitor for a Mac Mini. The Mac Mini doesn’t come with any kind of screen, but if you plug in the Luna Display dongle and then fire up the iPad app, you move from using your iPad as a second screen, to using the iPad as your main screen.

Luna Display Demo

Sidecar for Mac and iPad

Duet Display and Luna Display have been around for a few years now, so it was perhaps only inevitable that Apple would one day enter this arena themselves. The Cupertino version is called Sidecar, and it's baked right in to the latest version of the Mac operating system. No apps or additional purchases are necessary.

To get started, you need a Mac running Mac OS Catalina, and a compatible iPad. From here, all you need to do is click the AirPlay button in your menu bar and select your iPad from the list of available devices. You can also click and hold on the green button in the corner of an active window and send it to your iPad, or drag apps across your screen to your tablet. If the WiFi connection from AirPlay is not strong enough, you can connect your iPad to your Mac via a USB cable.

Sidecar supports the Apple Pencil and a limited set of touch gestures, but it was not designed to bring touch interaction to the Mac. Apple has resisted that for many years, and still show no signs of making Mac OS more touch-friendly. Instead, Sidecar is designed as a second screen application for the iPad. It has a more limited feature set when compared to Luna Display or Duet Display, but if you already have a Mac and an iPad, Sidecar is completely free to use.

Apple Sidecar Demo

3 Tips for Using an iPad as a Second Display

  1. If you are interested in adopting a dual-screen workflow as part of your daily routine, an iPad stand is going to be on your shopping list. They are available in all shapes and sizes, and some are even in the form of an adjustable arm that clamps onto your desk. I like the Lamicall Tablet stand because it can be used with a case, and has adjustable viewing angles, but your needs may differ so shop around until you find the one you need.
  2. Another useful tip is that apps like Duet Display support portrait mode. This can be very handy when working with documents, because it is a more natural orientation for those kinds of files and it lets you see more on the screen at one time. Reports, PDFs and even sheet music looks much better in portrait orientation.
  3. If you have a Mac window on your iPad, and you want to use an app on your tablet, you can still do that. Sidecar lets you access the iPad home screen via the home button or a touch gesture, and you can return to your Mac window by tapping the Sidecar icon in the dock.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Jonathan Wylie

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