Main screen? Secondary screen? How to maximize the productivity of iPad?

For iPad, we may choose it for productivity, but basically use it for large-screen entertainment after purchase. In order not to let our iPad play a greater role, perhaps the following methods can make them a productivity tool.

An external monitor may be the current productivity just need: after all, the display area of ​​a notebook is limited, and the largest commercially available size is probably only 17 inches. Compared with the current 27-inch monitors, the viewing area is obviously limited. Since we still have an iPad in hand, why not use this high-quality display?

iPad as a secondary screen

The iPad has a limited size, so we can use it as a second screen and put it aside. As far as my own experience is concerned, I will put these tools on the secondary screen:

  1. Tools that need to remind myself at all times, such as a calendar, so that I can glance at the tasks that need to be performed below, and remind myself at all times; such as time tracking tools, so that I can remind myself not to waste time;
  2. Resident tools are required: such as code documentation, so that you can write code on the main screen, and the documentation is on the secondary screen at any time, which is very convenient to check.
  3. When I need to focus, I will make the main screen full screen, but I need a second tool. For example, when I was writing this article, Typora was in full screen on the main screen, and the browser was opened on the secondary screen to query related information. Because of the limited size of the iPad, I can’t read the content on the secondary screen for a long time, so it’s not easy to get distracted.


Sidecar is a new feature under iOS13 and macOS10.15. As long as our Mac has a Type-C interface and is upgraded to macOS 10.15; and our iPad is upgraded to ISO 13, we can project the content on the mac to the iPad.

Applicable hardware:

  • MacBook Pro introduced in 2016 or later
  • MacBook introduced in 2016 or later
  • MacBook Air introduced in 2018 or later
  • iMac introduced in 2017 or later, plus iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2015)
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac mini introduced in 2018 or later
  • Mac Pro introduced in 2019
  • iPad Pro: all models
  • iPad (6th generation) or later
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)

Connection method: Both wired and wireless, it is recommended to use a data cable to connect to the iPad, so that you can charge while projecting.

Sidecar won’t work, Duet is here

As early as 2014, before iOS13 and macOS 10.15, former Apple engineer Rahul Dewan created the Duet app to use the iPad as a secondary screen. I thought that the launch of Sidecar would plunder the app’s market, but I didn’t expect it to become more and more courageous, with more features that Sidecar does not have:

Support more macOS / iOS devices: the earliest devices supporting macOS 10.9 (produced after 2012) and iPad / iPhone with iOS10 and above.

Cross-platform: Support Windows 10 and Android 7.1 and above devices, that is, we can use this app to project content from Windows to iPad or Android tablets, or project content from Mac to Android tablet.

Multi-device support: You can project to multiple devices at the same time. If you have multiple iPads or other mobile devices, you can project the content on your computer to these devices at the same time, and you will have more secondary screens.

Applicable hardware: All Duet supported Mac + iPad + iPhone + Windows + Android

Connection method: Both wired and wireless, it is recommended to use a data cable to connect to the iPad, so that you can charge while projecting.


Duet’s official Mac and iPad expansion diagram

iPad as the main screen

The previous usage is mainly on the computer side, supplemented by the iPad. If we have an iPad Pro in hand, we can turn it into a workhorse tool, just like Federico Viticci, the chief of MacStories.

Applicable hardware: iPad Pro + external display

Connection method: wired, use Type-C to transfer to DP or HDMI. It is recommended to choose the former, after all, a 60Hz DP cable is much cheaper than an HDMI cable of the same specification.

Main screen and secondary screen, app support

Many excellent apps have already called the second screen API of iPadOS, such as MindNode and Working Copy. This API was originally designed for game apps. After connecting directly to the screen, the game will be projected on the screen, and the iDevice becomes the controller. The first two apps cleverly took advantage of this feature: after the external display, the same app can display different content on the iPad and the external display, which is equivalent to expanding the screen.

Take MindNode as an example. After an external display, the iPad automatically becomes the editor, and the display becomes the preview. This design is very natural. After all, a mindmap may be very large, so more content can be displayed on the external display, and the touch screen on the iPad is very easy to slide, which is natural as an editor.

Working Copy also has a similar ingenuity. Users can edit markdown content on the iPad, and then select an external monitor to preview the rendered md content (by opening the external URL).

An iPhone displays game controls while the game graphics are displayed on a connected television.


Schematic diagram of Second Screen API on Apple’s official website


If we are still not satisfied with using only one app on the iPad and external display, then the ShiftScreen app is a big killer. It can also be said that this app completely releases the potential of the iPad Pro.

This app is the work of independent developer Yannik Schrade. Strictly speaking, this app is a browser that can be used for split screen. Limited by iPadOS, other apps cannot be opened in this app. Based on the second screen API mentioned earlier, ShiftScreen can open web pages and documents. In this way, there are more possibilities after the iPad Pro is connected to an external display.

We can open two browser windows on the iPad Pro and the monitor: the monitor is used to query information, such as watching videos and reading Wikis; and the web terminal for opening a note on the iPad, such as Notion or SimpleNote. Because it only runs in one app, it is smoother than opening the browser and note-taking apps at the same time;

ShiftScreen has optimized 25 tools, such as Excel / Word, the specific list is as follows:

Framer (Figma alternative), Miro (mind-mapping app), Whiteboard (collaborative sketching), YouTube, Trello, Notion, iCloud Photos, Airtable, iCloud Drive, Omni Focus, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Glitch, Slack, Office 365, Word, Excel, One Note, Outlook, iCloud Mail, Google Classroom, Evernote, Overleaf, iCloud Calendar, YouTube Studio

If you want to further develop this tool, you can check out the introduction video made by Yannik:


Whether the iPad is a productivity tool depends entirely on how we use it. Since we have already spent a lot of money on hardware, why not use it more?