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Quick Tip: How To Use Your iPad as a Second Monitor

One of the reasons why I love using my iPad Pro for work is how it can become nearly anything I want it to be. Do I want to use it as a tablet on my couch? Check. As a laptop on my desk? Check. Even as a capable second display for my Mac?

Sean Anderson
Sean Anderson

One of the reasons why I love using my iPad Pro for work is how it can become nearly anything I want it to be. Do I want to use it as a tablet on my couch? Check. As a laptop on my desk? Check. Even as a capable second display for my Mac?

That’s a definite check.

With the Sidecar feature that debuted in iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina, we can extend or mirror our Mac desktops with an accompanying iPad. Now, instead of being stuck with a single display, we’ve got a second display we can use for our work, presentations, or even watching a Netflix show.

The use cases are limited only by what you can think to do with your new extended desktop. For instance, I recently used my iPad to display some show notes for my More Movies Please! podcast while I had Skype and my audio recording software running on my main display. It worked perfectly.

Best of all, you could probably get a Sidecar session going in your sleep. It’s that easy.

How to start Sidecar on iPad

There are a couple ways to get a Sidecar session going and each can be done via a Bluetooth or wired connection to a Mac:

  1. Click the Airplay icon in your menu bar and select the option to connect to your iPad.
  2. Go to System Preferences, click on Sidecar, and choose the iPad you want to connect to in the dropdown menu beneath the iPad image.

Either option will start Sidecar. You’ll immediately notice that the display on your iPad will look like the desktop on your computer. It’s now acting as a second display that you can drag windows and apps onto.

A desk filled with a Mac mini, LG UltraFine display, iPad Pro, Focusrite audio interface, and other bits of technology.
A freaking Mac desktop on my iPad! On a messy desk! Hey, cable management is a challenge with a Mac mini.

Included in the System Preferences window are additional options to style the Sidecar window to your choosing. You can set which side of the display you want the sidebar to appear on or turn it off, where you want the Touch Bar to appear or turn it off, and whether or not you want to enable double tap on Apple Pencil.

The Sidecar sidebar

You’ll also notice that there’s a black bar with several different icons on the side of your iPad. These icons are all actions to control parts of your extended Mac display. These icons include, from top to bottom:

  • Show or hide the menu bar
  • Show or hide the Dock
  • The Command key ⌘
  • The Option key ⌥
  • The Control key ⌃
  • The Shift key ⇧
  • Undo the last action
  • Show or hide the onscreen keyboard
  • Disconnect and stop the Sidecar session

The Command, Option, Control, and Shifts keys can all be double tapped to lock the key in the “active” position. Tapping them again will unlock them.

A screenshot highlighting the sidebar in the Sidecar display on iPad.

Since iPad is a touch-first device, those icons are there to help you perform all of the same tasks you can perform on a Mac with a keyboard. For example, if you want to open up a Safari link in another tab, all you’d have to do is hold the Command key in the sidebar before tapping the link on a webpage.

Enjoy having a Touch Bar on iPad

Since we’re extending our Mac display to a touch-first device, we’re also given additional tools we can use. This includes the Touch Bar, a row of additional app-specific controls and actions at the bottom of the display.

A screenshot of the Touch Bar displaying Photos options in the Sidecar display.

If I’m running Photos in my Sidecar display, I’ll have the ability to favorite an image, rotate it, or scroll quickly through a list of my photos all from the Touch Bar. The Touch Bar will change its options to display what’s relevant to the active app. Having quick and easy access to often used actions can be a real time-saver.

A grab bag of other tricks

We’re using an iPadOS device, so it would be a real shame if the finger gestures we’ve all grown so accustomed to didn’t work anymore. Luckily, we don’t have to live in that sort of world. Even in Sidecar, we can still scroll with two fingers, undo with a left swipe with three fingers, or copy/paste with a pinch in or out with three fingers.

We can also use Apple Pencil in our Sidecar display. This opens up a world of possibilities for handwriting notes, signing documents, and especially having fine drawing control in graphic design programs like Affinity Designer. In some ways, we’ve now got a touch screen Mac and all the benefits that can bring.


The new Sidecar utility, available on most iPads running iPadOS 13 and Macs running Catalina, opens up a world of new and unique ways to use our computers. We no longer have to be stuck with a single monitor if we don’t want to be.

You may not need to use Sidecar every time you sit down at your Mac to get something done, but when it does become necessary, you’ll wonder how you ever used a Mac before Sidecar.

Extend yourself, cats.

On Pinterest? Be sure to pin these images.

Productivity

Sean Anderson

Lover of productivity tips, Apple devices, and vegan ice cream. Mostly, I'm busy petting cats 🐱 and dogs 🐶


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