How to use your iPad as a second Mac display with Sidecar

Using macOS Catalina and iPadOS Sidecar mode, you can turn your tablet into a highly useful Mac accessory.

Apple, iOS, iPad, iPadOS, macOS, Catalina, Sidecar, how to
Leif Johnson/IDG

We’ve already looked at many of the multitasking features you’ll find in iPadOS, but one of the most useful may be the Mac-compatible Sidecar mode, which lets you use your Apple tablet as a secondary display.

What is Sidecar?

Available to Mac users who have iPads running the most current edition of the OS, Sidecar enables users to extend their Mac desktop by using their iPad as a second display or as a high-precision input device across creative Mac apps.

This works in both wired and wireless mode and is controlled via the Display menu.

You’ll also see a control that lets you enter this mode when you hover your cursor above the green traffic light at the top left of a Mac app (on your Mac).

When in use, you can use your iPad to mirror your Mac display or as a second display for additional screen space. Or you can use your iPad as a graphics tablet for drawing with your Apple Pencil. (The latter lets you write on your iPad to draw, sketch, or write in any Mac app that supports stylus input.)

What does Apple say about Sidecar?

In its press release announcing the feature, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, said:

“Users will appreciate how they can expand their workspace with Sidecar, enabling new ways of interacting with Mac apps using iPad and Apple Pencil.”

Apple adds the following:

“With Sidecar, iPad can be used as an extended display for Mac and a high-precision drawing tablet across supported Mac apps. For users on the go, Sidecar makes it easy to bring an extended display with them so they can spread their work out over two displays wherever they happen to be. When paired with an Apple Pencil, they can use their iPad to draw, sketch or write in any Mac app that supports stylus input. Sidecar is a great tool for editing video with Final Cut Pro X, drawing with Adobe Illustrator or marking up iWork documents. And like all Continuity features, Sidecar can run on a wireless connection, so users can work with greater mobility.”

How to connect your iPad to your Mac

You can connect the your iPad and Mac with a USB-C cable (adaptors may be required). You can also connect wirelessly over Wi-Fi.

It is important that you are logged into the same Apple ID and that Bluetooth is active on both devices for this to work.

You then connect the two devices using AirPlay in the Menu bar:

  • Find the iPad you want to use.
  • Select it, and your Mac screen should become immediately visible on your iPad.
  • While in use in this mode, the AirPlay icon should become light blue.
  • You can also send an app to Sidecar on your iPad by hovering the cursor above the green expansion window you’ll see at the top left of the app window on your Mac. Choose Move to iPad to immediately see that app on your tablet.

To stop using your iPad as a second display, just tap AirPlay and choose "Disconnect."

You can mirror your Mac display on your Mac by choosing "Mirror Display" in AirPlay

Can I use my iPad as an iPad while in Sidecar mode?

Of course! Sidecar works like an app on your iPad – Apple insiders call this “iPad space.” That means you can continue to use your iPad as an iPad while in this mode by switching to another app.

What about full-screen apps?

You’ll get full-screen app support using Sidecar – just tap the green button at the top left corner of the app.

What you get when using your iPad in Sidecar mode

1. A Sidebar: When using your iPad in Sidecar mode, you’ll find a new Sidebar on the the left-hand edge of the display. This provides you with access to your most-used controls and modifier keys in apps that support Sidecar. You’ll also find tools that let you capture an entire webpage, document, or email, as well as markup in full-page view.

2. A Touchbar: If you’ve ever used a Mac that’s equipped with a TouchBar, then you’ll recognize it at the bottom of the iPad display when used with apps that support TouchBar. This will also work with Macs that don’t have a TouchBar.

3. A keyboard: Tap the keyboard icon in the Sidecar Sidebar (hard to say that fast), and you can type into your Mac app using the virtual keyboard on your iPad if the Mac’s own keyboard is too far away to reach.

Where are Sidecar Settings?

Sidecar System Preferences aren’t on your iPad, but in System Preferences on your Mac (in the Sidecar pane). Here you can:

  • Switch both Sidebar and Touchbar off.
  • Change the position of both Sidebar and Touchbar.
  • Enable double taps when using Apple Pencil.
  • Enable or disable visible pointer when using Apple Pencil.

How to control display behavior

If you want to use your iPad to extend your Mac display, you can set how this behaves in System Preferences>Displays>Arrangement. Here you can position your iPad screen relative to that of your Mac and/or any other displays you use.

What about Apple Pencil?

If the app you are using supports "Apple Events," then you’ll be able to use your Apple Pencil to write/draw in supported apps.

If you want to sketch into a document or markup a PDF, you can do so using Apple Pencil on your iPad, and those marks will appear on your Mac window, too.

Apple has said this will work with lots of creative apps, including those from Adobe, and Serif.

Which iPads will run Sidecar?

  • iPad Pro (all generations)
  • iPad (5th and 6th generation)
  • iPad mini (4th and 5th generation)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Air 2

Which Macs will run Sidecar?

Apple hasn’t yet told us which Mac models are compatible with the feature, though at present, consensus seems to be:

  • Mac 27-inch (Late 2015 or newer)
  • MacPro (2016 or newer)
  • Mac mini (2018)
  • Mac Pro (2019)
  • MacBook Air (2018)
  • MacBook (Early 2016 or newer)

What about older Macs?

If you are using an older Mac and don’t mind a slightly laggy experience when using Sidecar, and have enough experience to write a little code, then these instructions may help you get the feature working with your Mac.

How to get started using Sidecar now

If you own a supported iPad and a Mac, you can join Apple’s Public Beta Program, upgrade your devices and begin using Sidecar straight away.

I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you rely on either device, as this is beta software – and if you do, please backup your data first.

You can also use third-party apps such as Luna and Duet Display to turn your iPad into an external screen.

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