Use Two Mac Displays to Maximize Your Productivity, Even on the Road

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #162


You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m obsessed with personal productivity when using my Macs and iDevices, and as a result spend an inordinate amount of time looking for ways to perform tasks better, faster, or more elegantly. I like to think of it as “working smarter.”

Long ago I determined that the number one productivity booster on my Mac was screen real estate. So, for as long as I can remember I’ve used 2 displays with whatever Mac sat on (or under) my desk. For a while I even had a three monitor setup, but while adding the second monitor made a huge difference in my productivity, adding a third one didn’t help that much and took up a lot of desk space.

So while I’m uber-productive when I work at home with my dual-monitor system, the issue has always been with travel (and I travel a lot). Being restricted to a single screen (my MacBook Air’s cramped 13-inch non-Retina display) just plain slows me down. With two displays I can arrange five, six, or more windows from different apps and switch among them with abandon; when I’m limited to the MacBook Air’s built-in display, windows cover windows and everything gets stacked up in a jumble, taking more time and effort to find the window I need.

I tried a couple of cheap USB “travel displays” but they were too bulky and heavy. So, for years I’ve suffered with a single display when I was on the road. Then I found Duet Display ($15.99 in the iTunes App Store), which turns almost any iPad or iPhone into an external display for your Mac. I had tried apps that let you use your iPad as a second screen via Wi-Fi, but while they all worked, none of them worked well enough to use regularly. Watching a video rarely worked on them and there was often a noticeable lag between moving the mouse (or finger on the trackpad) and what I saw on the screen.

Duet Display, developed by ex-Apple engineers, eschews Wi-Fi. Instead, you connect your iDevice to your Mac with the same USB cable (Lightning or Dock Connector) you would use to charge or sync your device. Then, just launch the free Duet Display app on your Mac; launch the Duet Display app on your iPad; and in seconds your iPad turns into an external display for your Mac.   

Dr. Mac with Duet Display

Duet Display more than doubles my available screen space.

And it behaves like any other Mac display. You can use the Displays System Preferences pane to change resolution or display placement (left, right, above, and below the main monitor), or use the handy Duet Display menu to tweak these and other settings (like frame rate, performance, graphics card, and more).

Dr. Mac with Duet Display

And Duet Display behaves just like any other external monitor.   

Actually, it behaves better than most other external monitors — in addition to responding to your Mac mouse or trackpad, you can also use your finger directly on the screen to interact with your Mac applications by touch! And, for those fortunate enough to have an iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro, you can choose to use your iPad in "hybrid mode," allocating two-thirds of the screen to the Mac and one third to your favorite split-screen iOS app.

Duet Display on iPad Pro with Hybrid Mode

This iPad screen shot shows the Mac Photo Booth window on the left and the iPad Mail app on the right.

At $15.99 Duet Display sounds pricey for an iOS app. But to me, it’s been worth every penny. What else would make me almost as productive on the road as I am at home for less than the price of a good lunch? These days, anywhere my MacBook Air goes my iPad goes as well.

And that’s all he wrote…