iPad used as second display with Sidecar on macOS Catalina

The new Sidecar feature in macOS Catalina extends your Mac’s display to your iPad. With it, you can use your iPad as a secondary monitor or as a mirrored display that works with Apple Pencil and accessories like a mouse and keyboard.

How Sidecar Works

Once you have macOS Catalina installed on your Mac, you can connect your iPad to your computer and use it as an external display. It works both in a wired and wireless mode.

If you connect your iPad using a USB-C or Lightning cable, the connection is faster and more stable. But for most users, the wireless connection will work just as well. There’s no major lag as Apple uses its own Wi-Fi-based AirDrop-like peer-to-peer connection.

Sidecar UI showing Safari running How to Geek Website

Because of the peer-to-peer connection, Sidecar only has a 10-foot range. If you move to another room, you’ll notice lag and then a warning on the screen asking you to move closer to the Mac.

If you want to use the iPad as a portable display for a Mac around your house, you should look at Luna Display which works on a Wi-Fi network and has a longer range.

Once Sidecar is enabled, the iPad works as more than just a monitor. You’ll see a sidebar with controls and shortcuts, along with a virtual Touch Bar at the bottom of the screen. You can use touch, Apple Pencil, and a mouse to control the Mac display on your iPad.

Sidecar UI showing virtual Touch bar

While the touch UI does work, it’s not intuitive. If you were hoping that Sidecar would turn the Mac into an iPad where you’ll be able to use your fingers to tap on the screen and move around, alas, this is not it. The UI elements in Mac was quite small for this to work reliably.

So when you tap on the screen with a finger or you try to scroll with a finger, nothing happens. You have to use two fingers to scroll. And the only way to click or tap on elements is by using the Apple Pencil or a mouse that’s connected to the iPad (which brings up a cursor on the screen). The Mac’s keyboard and trackpad, of course, works reliably.

The Apple Pencil also can’t be used to navigate the UI. It can only be used for clicking and selecting things on the Mac. Apple Pencil does shine when used to draw on the screen in supported apps. This works natively for the Mark Up feature in Preview along with third-party apps like Affinity Photo, Adobe Illustrator, and more.

What this means is that to successfully use Sidecar as a secondary display, you’ll need to get used to a new interaction model. Swipe with two fingers to navigate, click and select using Apple Pencil or a mouse. The new text selection and editing gestures from iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 work here as well.

RELATED: What's New in macOS 10.15 Catalina, Available Now

Sidecar Compatibility

Sidecar feature is supported on the following Macs running macOS Catalina:

  • MacBook Pro introduced in 2016 or later
  • MacBook introduced in 2016 or later
  • MacBook Air introduced in 2018 or later
  • iMac introduced in 2016 or later, plus iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2015)
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac mini introduced in 2018 or later
  • Mac Pro introduced in 2019

And on the following iPads with Apple Pencil support running iPadOS 13:

  • iPad Pro: all models
  • iPad (6th generation) or later
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)

Before you begin using Sidecar, make sure that both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network and that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are enabled on both devices.

How to Setup Sidecar

The process of connecting to Sidecar is the same for both wired and wireless connections. If you’re going to use the wired connection method, connect the Mac to your iPad using a compatible cable first.

You can start the Sidecar connection in a couple of ways. The best way is to use the AirPlay option in the menu bar.

If you can’t spot the AirPlay icon in the menu bar, you can enable it by going to System Preferences > Displays and checking the “Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available” option.

Show mirroring option for AirPlay

Now, click on the “AirPlay” button from the menu bar. Here, select your iPad.

And that’s it. The Sidecar feature is now enabled and your iPad will start working as an external display. You can now drag and drop windows from your Mac’s screen to the iPad.

Alternatively, you can also go to System Preferences > Sidecar and then click on the “Select Device” dropdown and select your iPad from the list. Sidecar should now run on your iPad.

Connect to Sidecar from System Preferences

How to Use and Customize Sidecar

While you can simply use the iPad as a secondary monitor, there are some specific controls in macOS to improve your experience.

First of all, you can switch to the mirroring mode to control the Mac from the iPad. This can be useful while remaining in the room but not sitting at the computer.

To do this, click on the “Sidecar” button from the menu bar after the iPad is connected. Then click on “Mirror Built-in Retina Display.”

Sidecar options in Menu bar

The Sidecar UI on the iPad is quite simple. You’ll see a sidebar on the right and a virtual Touch Bar on the bottom (even if your Mac doesn’t support Touch Bar).

Sidecar iPad UI

On the top of the sidebar, you’ll find options to show or hide the menu bar and the Dock so you can enable full-screen mode on the Mac.

In the middle, you’ll find your modifier keys: Command, Option, Control, and Shift. You can double-tap on a key to lock it.

At the bottom, you’ll see the Undo, Keyboard, and Disconnect options.

The “Keyboard” button brings up iPadOS’s compact floating keyboard which supports gesture typing. You can use the “Disconnect” button to end the Sidecar connection.

You can also customize the Sidecar UI found on the iPad. On your Mac, Go to System Preferences > Sidecar.

From here, use the drop-down next to “Show Sidebar” to move the Sidebar from the left to right. You can also move the Touch Bar to the top or bottom from the “Show Touch Bar” option.

Additionally, you can uncheck the “Show Sidebar” and “Show Touch Bar” options to disable both elements.

Sidecar options in System Preferences

If you’re an avid Apple Pencil user, you can also check the “Enable double tap on Apple Pencil” option to use the double-tap gesture as a right-click option on the Mac.

To Disconnect Sidecar, select the “Disconnect” button from the bottom-right or left corner (depending on your preferences) of the iPad’s screen.

Tap on the Disconnect button to stop Sidecar connection

Alternatively, you can go to the “AirPlay” menu from the menu bar on your Mac and click on the “Disconnect” button.

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Khamosh Pathak is a freelance technology writer who specializes in tutorials. His work has also been published on Lifehacker, iPhoneHacks, Zapier's blog, MakeUseOf, and Guiding Tech. Khamosh has nearly a decade of experience writing how-tos, features and technology guides on the internet.
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