We’ve all been there – you’re out and about working on your laptop, and you just need that extra screen real-estate. Because furiously command-tabbing, or four-finger swiping to change apps or spaces just isn’t cutting it. Your iPad or iPhone is sitting next to you with e-mail or Twitter open…but you need something more.
Naturally, I’m getting at the fact that you can use your iPad as a second screen for your computer – that’s nothing new. What is new is the fact that there is now a solution that’s lightning-quick, super-reliable, and truly organic.
Duet Display, an app made by Kairos (a team of ex-Apple engineers) is the app that makes this happen. And all you need to do is get over the “wireless aesthetic.”
What I don’t like about other apps
The biggest gripe I’ve had with display apps that I’ve bothered to plunk down the money for in the past years is that they’re just…slow. If you’ve ever used Screen Sharing or VNC with a slow machine (as I often do when I make old machines into headless servers) or over a slow network connection, there is a visible lag between your mouse moves and keyboard clicks that can quickly become insanely infuriating. Especially when typing, the instant feedback becomes important.
So really, this eliminates a lot of functionality – I can’t use the wireless solutions for word processing, or even e-mailing…or for anything remotely mouse-sensitive (heaven forbid I try to use Photoshop). What does that leave? Well, maybe web browsing…? Or pulling up a document for reference? And in that case, why have it at all? I can use Chrome or Safari on my iPad. I can pull up documents in Box / Dropbox / etc.
And, what’s more, those apps require wireless. Sure, if you’re home then it’s probably OK. But once you get onto even semi-public wifi, you throw reliability out the window. Dropped connections with an external display app are doubly annoying, as your computer reacts to the attachment or detachment of an external display by refreshing the screen. Sure, there’s the ad-hoc network, but then you lose Internet access.
Why Duet Display blows wireless out of the water
Duet Display is by far the best “iPad as an external monitor” solution I’ve ever used. I know there’s something enticing about the “wireless aesthetic” – we have wireless mice, wireless keyboards, wireless networks, etc. But in this case, the wire is worth it.
1) The connection is rock solid
No dropouts. Not one. I use this app day in and day out in both my main job and my side jobs. Hours of use on end. High-performance mode (60 fps, retina). And not one drop.
2) Fast enough response to feel truly organic
I can’t stress how important this is. I can legitimately use my iPad as a real monitor. I haven’t yet found an app that makes me say “oh, I guess I can’t use this on my iPad.” There are reports out there where people have used pro-level apps (in this case, Pro Tools) flawlessly on the iPad using Duet Display. I believe every word.
How I’ve used it (with great success)
At work – tertiary display, passive
On a daily basis, the iPad sits beside my normal monitors at work (two Thunderbolt displays) and serves as my sidebar for web development. I have Tower, CodeKit, Dash, and anything else that’s really not a huge focus at the moment, but is good to have up for reference every so often.
At home – tertiary display, active
When I’m working on web development projects at home, I don’t have the luxury of the big monitors, so the iPad becomes a more active display. Typically, I use it for some of the same things – Tower, CodeKit, Dash – but also for my Web Inspector pane in Chrome where I do more clicking and poking around, and for the occasional diff in Kaleidoscope. I’ve also pulled up Word / Excel documents for editing or reference, or an additional web browser if I need to look something up.
On the go – secondary display, very active
Part of my day job requires me to move across campus a good bit. My unit is spread out across several buildings, and I regularly have meetings across campus as well. For the class I teach, I sit in the computer lab while students work through the videos (flipped classroom style). When I freelance, I’m sometimes in coffee shops or otherwise on the go. Regardless, I stick my iPad in my backpack along with my laptop when I leave my office, so that I can pull it out for Duet Display when I need it…and I’ve found that I nearly always use it.
What I don’t use
The touch feature is pretty slick as well, but for me, I just don’t use it. Maybe I’m just in “desktop” mindset…but I haven’t had the need.
I also don’t change orientation of my iDevice a lot – but I have done this accidentally, and after a quick recalibration, Duet jumps right back into action.
You can supposedly run your Mac with the Duet display as the main display…not sure why you’d do this, but I don’t.
- First, one consideration for this review: I’m using a 2013 Retina MacBook Pro, i7, 16GB RAM. (As you can imagine, it’s no slouch.) I haven’t tested on less-powerful and/or older machines.
- There is no Windows support for Duet…yet. It’s on “the list” for future development. But for now, it’s Apple-only.
- Performance does take a little bit of a hit if you “chain” the iPad through another hub – for instance, if I connect the iPad to one of my Thunderbolt displays and run Duet, there is a small bit of lag. Connecting directly to the Mac is your best bet.
- If you’re really into aesthetics, the cable makes things a bit cluttered and ugly. (But seriously…it’s just one cable. You really have to be a perfectionist to care that much.)
That’s it, really. I can’t think of anything else.
My wish list
- Right now you can’t connect multiple devices simultaneously. Not that I really need that capability, and not that I have another iPad…but I would probably tinker with setting up my iPhone 6 plus with Duet if I could. This is also supposedly in the works.
- A bigger iPad :) (fingers crossed)
TL;DR / Summary
The short version: Duet Display will give you a true “extra monitor” for your Mac that responds with incredibly fast performance and rock-solid reliability. You can do everything on that screen (provided the size is enough for you) that you would do on your laptop. Nothing else on the market compares, or even comes close.
My strong recommendation: spend the $15, plug in the extra cable, and enjoy the productivity that ensues.
BONUS – Duet Display is currently celebrating 1 million hours of use, and is on sale for $8! Grab it now – and check out their other social media giveaways in conjunction with TwelveSouth. (Incidentally, TwelveSouth stuff is great too – I love my BookArc and Compass.)