Using an iPad as a second screen


When I upgraded my laptop, I found that I simply couldn’t justify sticking with the MacBook Pro range for my rather basic needs. Changing to a MacBook Air did however mean sacrificing a little more screen real estate, going from 15 inches to a teeny 13.

This wouldn’t be an issue of course if I had space for my big monitor, but unfortunately My cosy working from home desk setup isn’t ideal for this. The past year I’ve done my best to lean into the very portable nature of working from a laptop, and for the most part it works very well. Having limited screen space means I don’t have much choice but to focus on one task at a time, and I’ve found that I get distracted far less easily.

Where I’ve run into issues so far is when I need to reference something to create something else, such as typing notes whilst in a user interview, making a report based on some data, or doing anything whilst getting help from ChatGPT. In those cases, having to switch between windows or make them really small is cumbersome and more distracting rather than less.

photo of my desk, with my iPad hooked up to my laptop

I looked into getting a portable monitor, then looked at my gen 1 iPad Pro which isn’t much smaller. I’ve played around with apps for using it as an extra screen before, but now there’s Sidecar built in natively which makes it a whole lot easier, and free! At first it felt unreliable, dropping out frequently, but now I’ve sorted out the kinks it works beautifully. I don’t think I’d use it as my main screen but as a second for referencing it’s exactly what I need and nothing more.

Some things I’m liking about it:

  • I didn’t have to pay for an extra piece of tech, and of course the iPad can do regular tablet things that a monitor can’t
  • Even though I use it with a cable for a more stable connection, I can position it where it makes sense for the specific task at hand, even flat in front of me for use with the Pencil
  • Since both my laptop screen and the iPad Pro aren’t large, the edges don’t feel far away and I don’t feel tempted to display heaps of things at once
  • It’s all very portable and easy to tuck away when not in use.