Even if you think you’ve maxed out the usefulness of your iPad there’s still opportunities to squeeze even more utility out of it. Read on as we show you how to use your iPad as a supplementary monitor for your PC or Mac.
The iPad is an enormously useful little tablet computer but when you’re sitting at your desktop or laptop you can’t easily use it in tandem with the larger computer. Rather than let it languish unused when you’re at your main computer, use it to extend your desktop. Whether you’re extending your laptop monitor for an instant second screen at the coffee shop or using it to park your Photoshop palettes while working at your desktop, the iPad screen is just the right size for parking IM windows, application interfaces, and other small but useful widgets and gadgets that you’d like to keep an eye on but don’t want to clutter up your main screen with.
What You’ll Need
For this tutorial you’ll need only a few simple things, nearly all of which you likely have on hand if you’ve read this far with interest. To get started you’ll need:
- An iPad.
- A Mac or Windows computer.
- Access to a Wi-Fi network (you’ll need Wi-Fi to get the computer and iPad talking)
- A copy of Air Display for your iPad ($9.99, available in the App Store).
- A copy of the Air Display server software for your PC or Mac (free).
While normally we like to go with free-as-in-beer solutions, Air Display is currently the best desktop-extending app in the App Store and easily outpaces the handful of free and/or similarly priced options. Note: If you’re using Air Display away from a Wi-Fi network you can set up a temporary Ad-Hoc network to bind your computer to your iPad.
Installing Air Display Server and Client Software
For this tutorial we’ll be installing the server software on a Windows 7 machine. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy for your Windows or Mac machine now is the time to do so. Run the install application and follow the prompts. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the installation process although halfway through Windows users will receive a prompt from the OS asking if you’d like to authorize the installation of display drivers from the Avatron Software. Approve the drivers and then, at the end of the process, reboot your machine.
While you’re rebooting it’s a perfect time to install the client software on your iPad. From your iPad visit the App Store and search for “Air Display” (or visit this link from your iPad’s browser). Authorize the purchase and install the application on your device. Tap the new Air Display icon to launch the app for the first time. You’ll never actually need to do anything on the iPad but run the application (everything you’ll find in the application interface for Air Display is just instructions and/or tutorial videos).
When you first launch the app you’ll be greeted with installation instructions for your desktop computer. Since you’ve already downloaded and installed the desktop app we can skip those steps. Just leave the application open and return to your desktop.
Once your desktop has finished rebooting you can link the iPad to your computer. While Air Display is running on your iPad, return to your computer and launch the Air Display server application.
While everything should go smoothly there is a chance (which is based entirely on your ISP’s DNS server system) that you may see an error message like this:
If you do see an error message like that, you’ll need to switch the DNS server of the host computer from the default DNS server (your ISP’s) to Google’s public DNS servers. Essentially the issue is that your ISP’s DNS servers don’t properly resolve the local IP addresses correctly and Google’s do. You can read how to change the DNS servers here. It takes about 30 seconds and you’ll never see the error again.
If you didn’t see the error or you’ve already resolved it, it’s time to move on to connecting your iPad and computer. In the system tray you’ll see the air display icon like so:
Right click on the icon to access the Air Display context menu. In addition to the Options, Updates, and Exit menu choices you should see the name of your iPad like so:
If you do not see the name of your iPad check to make sure your computer and iPad are on the same Wi-Fi network. Your desktop doesn’t have to be using Wi-Fi but it needs to be on the same physical network (i.e. linked via Ethernet cable to the wireless router) as the iPad. If your device is missing double check that Air Display is running on your iPad and all the devices share the same network space. If you see your iPad listed, click on it.
Glance over at your iPad right after you click the name of the iPad on your desktop; you’ll see a little linking icon flash on the iPad screen. After that your desktop should flicker and switch from the Aero Theme to the Basic Theme (if you weren’t already running the Basic Theme).
If you are running a single monitor the iPad screen should be, by default, on the right hand side (as far as monitor orientation goes). If you’re running more than one monitor it will orient itself to the right hand side of the first monitor. If you’re running dual monitors and the left monitor is #1 and the right monitor is #2 this means that the new iPad display is wedged right in the middle of them. In the case of the triple-monitor setup on our test machine (and yes, we realize how pixel-greedy it is to be adding a fourth display to a triple-monitor setup) this meant the iPad screen got wedged right in between the far left and middle monitor like so:
That’s not a terrible useful location for an auxiliary monitor and it really screwed up the way monitor #1 displayed windows (as you would imagine). We opted to drag the iPad display down beneath the middle monitor. Take a moment to right click on the Air Display system tray icon again and select Display Arrangement to move the monitor to your preferred location.
Once you’ve tweaked the location in the Display Arrangement menu, you can start using the auxiliary monitor as you see fit. We tried it out with a variety of windows to see how it looked. First we dragged a Chrome browser window onto it to check out some web pages and the Pandora web interface:
Positioned at regular monitor distance the screen was more than satisfactory size for viewing a web page and web-based apps like Pandora look great in full-screen mode. Our second test was to turn it into an IM/widget dashboard:
In both tests the secondary “monitor” functioned flawlessly with snappy mouse feedback and screen refresh.
Taking Advantage of Additional Air Display Functionality
Although our primary interest with Air Display was simply turning our iPad into a secondary monitor, there are a handful of really useful little features packed into the application.
In addition to extending the desktop you can also mirror the desktop. If you’re in a situation where you want to show someone what’s happening on the desktop (i.e. teaching someone how to use a new interface, modeling an application, etc.) you can flip on mirror mode (right click the system tray icon –> Options –> Mirror Mode) and then hand them the iPad to watch.
Also, just because you’re extending the desktop onto the iPad doesn’t mean you lose the functionality of the iPad touch screen. Any application placed on the iPad screen gains touch support. You could, for example, drag a Photoshop window onto the extended iPad desktop and then use a stylus to draw on it or place the calculator app on the iPad screen and use your finger instead of the mouse to punch the keys.
The final useful trick stashed away in the Air Display portfolio is access to the onscreen iOS keyboard. Let’s say you’re working on your laptop and you want a client to fill in a form for you. You can drag the form to your iPad, hand the iPad to the client, and (using the on screen keyboard) they can fill in the form right from the iPad. Anytime you want to quickly fill in some information on the secondary display you can do so right from the onscreen keyboard.
Whether you’re just looking to extend your monitor to your iPad for on-the-go dual monitor action or you’re planning to trot out the extra tricks like touch-screen navigation, you’re now ready to deploy your iPad as an extension of your desktop. Enjoy!
Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 12/20/11