How to use an iPad or iPad Pro as a monitor for your Mac

Posted:
in General Discussion edited November 2018
You're going to need an actual monitor for the very first time you use your Mac mini, but after that you can a few different app combos to use your iPad and even iPhone as a temporary or permanent display. AppleInsider shows you how.

Using an iPad as monitor for a Mac
Using an iPad as monitor for a Mac


Assuming you aren't using some kind of corporate or educational device provisioning program, you're going to need a monitor to set up your Mac mini for the first time -- but you'll only need it for perhaps 20 minutes. After that, there are ways to use your iPad, your iPhone or even another Mac as the monitor instead.

When the Mac mini first came out, Apple expected you to have or to get a monitor and plug it in. Then as the little Mac that could became more and more useful in closets and server farms, it was more common to use them as what's called headless, with no monitor. Just a remote connection for the odd occasion that you needed to install an app.

Apple's 2018 Mac mini
Apple's 2018 Mac mini


Now with the new Mac mini being so powerful and our iOS devices being so ubiquitous, you have more options. You can still use an iPad Pro to change a setting on the Mac mini once a year but you can now also permanently connect these machines.

You can prop that iPad up against the Mac mini and use it as your regular display forever. Or at least, you can if you get the right software tools and if you can borrow a monitor while you install them.

Headless for low cost

We've had good results with Screens 4 from Edovia which now costs $19.99 and is also available in the Setapp subscription service.

It's a remote control app and service that lets you see your Mac screen on your iPad, iPhone or another Mac over the internet. It's similar to Google's Chrome Remote Desktop and it's similar to several corporate options such as TeamViewer.

You have to install the Screens software on your Mac mini before you can remotely access it but this is a cheap and in our experience excellent solution. All of these remote control apps are meant for occasional use rather than permanently saving you the need for a monitor, though.

Temporary and permanent

When you're doing this only occasionally, you put up with the odd hiccup or a delay between you tapping on the iPad screen and the Mac mini reacting. When it's your regular display, though, you can't. When this is your working machine, you need it to be as fast and responsive as possible.

Get Luna Display. For $80 you get software for your Mac and iOS device plus a dongle. You've been hoping Santa would bring you yet another dongle.

Plugging Luna Display's dongle into a Mac (picture by Luna Display)
Plugging Luna Display's dongle into a Mac (picture by Luna Display)


Luna Display comes in two versions so that it can work with all modern Macs. If you've got a new 2018 Mac mini, you need the USB-C model. The alternative is a Mini DisplayPort version of Luna Display and that works for older Mac minis.

You can just plug that dongle into your Mac mini and, in future, as long as that dongle is in place, you can use Luna Display wirelessly. So if instead of a Mac mini you go for a MacBook, for instance, you can plug that dongle in and out as you travel around and Luna Display will work when you want it to.

There's still the matter of the first time you run it -- you have to download and install the Luna Display software to both your Mac mini and to your iPad or iPhone.

There's also the issue that Luna Display comes from the makers of art drawing app Astropad. While that's meant specifically for artists so that they can, say, use the Apple Pencil on their iPad to draw in Adobe Illustrator on their Macs, it does display that Mac's screen on the iOS device.

Astropad does not require a dongle. It's either a one-time Standard edition for $30 or an Astropad Studio for pro users that unlocks more Apple Pencil functionality for an $80 per year subscription. That actually makes Luna Display cheaper than the full-featured Astropad Studio -- once you've used it for a year and a day.

Once it's running

When you've installed the software and gone through those apps' setup instructions, your iPad is now a monitor for your Mac mini.

Luna Display is often used as a second monitor on devices like MacBooks or iMacs so that you have greater screen real estate. For our purposes, it's the first and only monitor, though.

Leave your Mac mini running, launch Luna Display on your iPad whenever you need to, and then just work as normal.

Been there, done that

Luna Display costs $80 and if you've already got an iPad, that's a cheap price for a high-quality monitor. However, it's not as cheap as $9.99 plus optional annual subscriptions which is what you pay for Duet Display.

Previously we've reported on how Duet Display has worked well with its entirely dongle-free existence. When you'd run the iOS and Mac versions of the Duet app then you could use your iPad as a second screen just fine.

Then more recently we've reported how Duet was updated to fix a problem with with High Sierra. Now we have to tell you that it's not really working at all with macOS Mojave across a wide variety of hardware combinations.

Duet Display has problems with macOS Mojave
Duet Display has problems with macOS Mojave


We've reached out to the developers and in the meantime have managed to get it working but not in a usable state. The lag between what you tap on your iPad using Duet and what your Mac is at best a very long time. At worse, nothing registers at all.

And moreover, the Mac's screen as displayed on your iOS device is currently unworkable. If you drag a window then half of it stays where it was, for instance.

We understand that Duet Display has a fix in the works for Mojave, but for the moment you shouldn't buy it -- unless you're not using Mojave and have no intention of doing so.

Strange world

It is somehow disconcerting to see your Mac's screen displayed on an iOS device. It gets odder when you realise that you no longer need to bring your own monitor, keyboard and mouse to the Mac mini: the iPad will do it all.

You can type on the iPad's on-screen keyboard and you can tap anywhere to click and drag on the screen. If you do this for the occasional remote-controlling of your Mac, you not only can do this but you should. It's all you need.

That said, if you're using this iPad as a permanent monitor for your Mac mini and you're planning to regularly do a lot of work, get a separate keyboard plus mouse or trackpad too.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 31
    I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this...

    An iPad makes for an expensive but tiny screen.  You can get a high quality 34” for $500-$700...
    williamlondonDesktops_not_iPads
  • Reply 2 of 31
    Timely article. I will be upgrading our mini soon with a new mini, relegating the older one to home server and media server use on the network. Wouldn’t I be better off to use VNC for free to accomplish what I need? 

    As as an aside, I have an iMac that had the video card fail. I wish that I had enabled this before I woke up one day with a no warning, no prior glitches failure. That would have given me access and potential use as a server. The lesson I have there is thinking that I should enable this on all Macs we have just in case. https://www.geckoandfly.com/23203/vnc-client-viewer-windows-mac-linux/

    Mojave added a security setting that you have to do in order to enable the Free built in VNC server already on your mac. (Extra step not needed on prior versions)
    https://apple.stackexchange.com/questions/339114/allowing-vnc-to-control-computer-under-10-14-mojave


    svanstromwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 31
    The HTML at the top of the article is wonky thanks to a missing "<".  Also Screens 4 now is priced at $29 instead of the $19 stated in the article.

    Very interesting and timely piece.  Thanks for doing this.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 31
    I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this...

    An iPad makes for an expensive but tiny screen.  You can get a high quality 34” for $500-$700...
    Which is $500-$700 more than if you use an iPad you’ve got laying around.

    Sooner or later I’ll get a new Mac mini for BitTorrent, media storage and backups; and I’ll use an iPad to interact with it whenever I don’t want to switch on the tv that’ll be connected to.

    (And… Right now I’m using this type of a thing to have the iPad as a mobile second screen for my MBP.)
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 31
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,435member
    svanstrom said:
    I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this...

    An iPad makes for an expensive but tiny screen.  You can get a high quality 34” for $500-$700...
    Which is $500-$700 more than if you use an iPad you’ve got laying around.

    Sooner or later I’ll get a new Mac mini for BitTorrent, media storage and backups; and I’ll use an iPad to interact with it whenever I don’t want to switch on the tv that’ll be connected to.

    (And… Right now I’m using this type of a thing to have the iPad as a mobile second screen for my MBP.)
    It really all depends on why you’re using the mini. If I get a mini, it will be as a wireless media server, for which a headless iPad will be perfect. Using it as any kind of server (which is a very popular use) would be an ideal solution as well.
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 31
    wanderso said:
    Timely article. I will be upgrading our mini soon with a new mini, relegating the older one to home server and media server use on the network. Wouldn’t I be better off to use VNC for free to accomplish what I need? 

    As as an aside, I have an iMac that had the video card fail. I wish that I had enabled this before I woke up one day with a no warning, no prior glitches failure. That would have given me access and potential use as a server. The lesson I have there is thinking that I should enable this on all Macs we have just in case. https://www.geckoandfly.com/23203/vnc-client-viewer-windows-mac-linux/

    Mojave added a security setting that you have to do in order to enable the Free built in VNC server already on your mac. (Extra step not needed on prior versions)
    https://apple.stackexchange.com/questions/339114/allowing-vnc-to-control-computer-under-10-14-mojave

    The technique described doesn’t match Mojave. I have “Screen Sharing” enabled in System Preferences/Sharing and no vnc application authorized in the Accessibility settings. I connect from my iPad via Mocha VNC.

    VNC may be efficient on a fast iPad. The remote screen consumes a lot of iPad RAM. I think last year’s 9.7” iPad may do the job.
    edited November 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 31

    I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this...

    An iPad makes for an expensive but tiny screen.  You can get a high quality 34” for $500-$700...
    iPad’s Retina display. A 34” monitor at 1080p is of no use to anyone.
  • Reply 8 of 31
    Duet offers the debatable touch bar for all the macs Apple 'forgot', with caveats of course...

    This potentially includes the new mini (without even a discrete GPU option and locked in T2 storage) except it does not yet work with the only shipping macOS mojave, technically out of beta?

    The design decisions and seeming gaps and inconsistencies from Cupertino these days really leave me scratching my head...?

    And I might hope perhaps some day Apple may revert to macOS release cycles on merit (aka SJ) and efficacy, vs what seems an annual corporate reporting cycle, fall 'marketing' upgrades and what is feeling increasingly simply like churn... Do we really need more emoji ?

    edited November 2018
  • Reply 9 of 31
    I look at the Mac mini as a nice little machine... a work machine.

    It looks like many here are considering it as a media server...  I guess that works, but it seems a waste.  

    I’d use a cheap Linux box for that.  The Mac mini maxes out at 256GB SSD...  

    I’d be using mirrored hard drives 20x larger that are much much cheaper.

    Thumbs up on VNC thow for the media server.
  • Reply 10 of 31
    I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this...

    An iPad makes for an expensive but tiny screen.  You can get a high quality 34” for $500-$700...
    You can’t imagine a single use case where one might want a temporary display for their headless Mac? What a sheltered life experience you must have.

    I have a headless mini running as a server for various tasks, tucked away somewhere. Plugging a monitor into it is out of the question. Using one of these tools is and has been the perfect solution. I use TeamViewer via an iPad. 
    edited November 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 31
    It looks like many here are considering it as a media server...  I guess that works, but it seems a waste.  

    I’d use a cheap Linux box for that.
    Really? You reeeeaaaaally think it’d be a waste for someone to have a media server that just fits in with their Apple ecosystem of mobile devices like MacBooks, iPads, iPhones etc?

    Instead it be such a money and timesaver for people to set up, secure and get a Linux server to fit in with their Apple ecosystem? That’s what your tech know how is telling you?
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 31
    svanstrom said:
    It looks like many here are considering it as a media server...  I guess that works, but it seems a waste.  

    I’d use a cheap Linux box for that.
    Really? You reeeeaaaaally think it’d be a waste for someone to have a media server that just fits in with their Apple ecosystem of mobile devices like MacBooks, iPads, iPhones etc?

    Instead it be such a money and timesaver for people to set up, secure and get a Linux server to fit in with their Apple ecosystem? That’s what your tech know how is telling you?
    My tech know how is telling me 256GBs SSD provides great performance, but is entirely insufficient as a media server.

    A 256GB would hold ~160 minutes of 4K video.  I assume people will put home videos on it... modern iPhones can record at 4K.  Apple probably has a bit better compression than what I listed, and maybe people don’t need 60fps, but I think my point is made.

    If people don’t want to mess with Linux, you can buy Apple compatible media servers on Amazon to do that.  It’s about as simple as it gets, just throw in whatever size drives you need.  I’d mirror them for data redundancy.  The Mac mini doesn’t do that...

    I’m not knocking the Mac mini but it’s hugely over powered for the task, and because of the form factor you’ll almost immediately be buying external storage anyways.


  • Reply 13 of 31
    svanstrom said:
    It looks like many here are considering it as a media server...  I guess that works, but it seems a waste.  

    I’d use a cheap Linux box for that.
    Really? You reeeeaaaaally think it’d be a waste for someone to have a media server that just fits in with their Apple ecosystem of mobile devices like MacBooks, iPads, iPhones etc?

    Instead it be such a money and timesaver for people to set up, secure and get a Linux server to fit in with their Apple ecosystem? That’s what your tech know how is telling you?
    My tech know how is telling me 256GBs SSD provides great performance, but is entirely insufficient as a media server.
    Have your tech know-how turn the Mac Mini around and have a look at the Thunderbolt (USB-C) and USB 3 ports.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 31
    svanstrom said:
    It looks like many here are considering it as a media server...  I guess that works, but it seems a waste.  

    I’d use a cheap Linux box for that.
    Really? You reeeeaaaaally think it’d be a waste for someone to have a media server that just fits in with their Apple ecosystem of mobile devices like MacBooks, iPads, iPhones etc?

    Instead it be such a money and timesaver for people to set up, secure and get a Linux server to fit in with their Apple ecosystem? That’s what your tech know how is telling you?
    My tech know how is telling me 256GBs SSD provides great performance, but is entirely insufficient as a media server.

    A 256GB would hold ~160 minutes of 4K video.  I assume people will put home videos on it... modern iPhones can record at 4K.  Apple probably has a bit better compression than what I listed, and maybe people don’t need 60fps, but I think my point is made.

    If people don’t want to mess with Linux, you can buy Apple compatible media servers on Amazon to do that.  It’s about as simple as it gets, just throw in whatever size drives you need.  I’d mirror them for data redundancy.  The Mac mini doesn’t do that...

    I’m not knocking the Mac mini but it’s hugely over powered for the task, and because of the form factor you’ll almost immediately be buying external storage anyways.
    Thinking of the Mac Mini as a media server (or as any server) is the natural instinct of almost every Mac user. Your solution is good but both Linux and Apple compatible media serviers on Amazon would fall short in an Apple ecosystem. People may have Apple TVs in multiple rooms, may have iTunes music, movie and TV show purchases, may have iTunes Home Sharing enabled, may have their own DVD/BluRay libraries somehow ripped and stored on the Mac, home videos, a multitude of iPhone clips... The best way to manage, centralize and share all of these itty bitty items is iTunes. 256 GB SSD is insufficient but many people will be fine with a couple TBs of USB-3 external drives to store iTunes media. When they get proficient with 4K on iMovie then a NAS or TB3 storage would be required, obviously, but the Mac Mini would still be the core power station thanks to HEVC encoding built into the T2 chip.
    edited November 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 31

    macplusp iPad’s Retina display. A 34” monitor at 1080p is of no use to anyone.


    Ipads are garbage.  4k computer monitor = Retina quality pixel density at 2560x1440.

    williamlondon
  • Reply 16 of 31

    iPad’s Retina display. A 34” monitor at 1080p is of no use to anyone.


    Ipads are garbage.  4k computer monitor = Retina quality pixel density at 2560x1440.
    Classic first post.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 31
    FWIW, Duet is working perfectly for me on a 2018 MBP with both an iPad 12.9" 2nd Gen and the just released 3rd Gen. Now, I use it only as a second display, and I don't tap on the iPad to send commands to the MBP, but in that capacity at least, there are issues with lag or screen dragging as suggested, even across an entire workday of use.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 31
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,604administrator
    Subrandom said:
    FWIW, Duet is working perfectly for me on a 2018 MBP with both an iPad 12.9" 2nd Gen and the just released 3rd Gen. Now, I use it only as a second display, and I don't tap on the iPad to send commands to the MBP, but in that capacity at least, there are issues with lag or screen dragging as suggested, even across an entire workday of use.
    In our conversations with the developer, the problems seem to be hit-or-miss. However, given that it is not a universal solution, we can't recommend it right now. We'll revisit after we see any updates.
    svanstromwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 31
    Mike Wuerthele said:
    Subrandom said:
    FWIW, Duet is working perfectly for me on a 2018 MBP with both an iPad 12.9" 2nd Gen and the just released 3rd Gen. Now, I use it only as a second display, and I don't tap on the iPad to send commands to the MBP, but in that capacity at least, there are issues with lag or screen dragging as suggested, even across an entire workday of use.
    In our conversations with the developer, the problems seem to be hit-or-miss. However, given that it is not a universal solution, we can't recommend it right now. We'll revisit after we see any updates.
    Once the truat issue between the Mac and iPad connected on USB is resolved, Duet seems working. If trust is not established then the Mac may drop the USB connection intermittently or repeatedly. The cure is to reset Location & Privacy on iOS device, restart both ends and "Trust this computer" again (trying with a 3d party Lightning cable may help in some cases).
    edited November 2018 watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 31
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,604administrator
    Mike Wuerthele said:
    Subrandom said:
    FWIW, Duet is working perfectly for me on a 2018 MBP with both an iPad 12.9" 2nd Gen and the just released 3rd Gen. Now, I use it only as a second display, and I don't tap on the iPad to send commands to the MBP, but in that capacity at least, there are issues with lag or screen dragging as suggested, even across an entire workday of use.
    In our conversations with the developer, the problems seem to be hit-or-miss. However, given that it is not a universal solution, we can't recommend it right now. We'll revisit after we see any updates.
    Once the truat issue between the Mac and iPad connected on USB is resolved, Duet seems working. If trust is not established then the Mac may drop the USB connection intermittently or repeatedly. The cure is to reset Location & Privacy on iOS device, restart both ends and "Trust this computer" again (trying with a 3d party Lightning cable may help in some cases).
    Yep, we tried that. It isn't a universal fix, and doesn't stay fixed. We just can't recommend it right now. Maybe in a patch or two, but not today.
    edited November 2018 watto_cobra
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