How to Use Your iPad as an External Mac Display With Sidecar

iPad used as second screen with Sidecar on macOS CatalinaApple

The new Sidecar feature in macOS Catalina extends the display from your Mac to your iPad. With it, you can use your iPad as a secondary monitor or as a mirror screen that works with Apple Pencil and accessories like a mouse and keyboard.

How Sidecar works

Once you have macOS Catalina installed on your Mac, you can connect your iPad to your computer and use it as an external screen. It works in both wired and wireless mode.

If you connect your iPad using a USB-C or Lightning cable, the connection is faster and more stable. But for most users, the wireless connection will work just as well. There is no major delay because Apple uses its own Wi-Fi-based AirDrop type peer-to-peer connection.

Sidecar user interface showing Safari running How to Geek Website

Due to the peer-to-peer connection, Sidecar only has a range of 10 feet. If you move to another room, you will notice an offset and a warning on the screen asking you to get closer to the Mac.

If you want to use the iPad as a portable screen for a Mac in your home, you should look Luna Display which works on a Wi-Fi network and has a longer range.

Once Sidecar is activated, the iPad works more than just a monitor. You will see a sidebar with commands and shortcuts, as well as a virtual touch bar at the bottom of the screen. You can use touch, Apple Pencil and a mouse to control how the Mac is displayed on your iPad.

Sidecar user interface showing the virtual touch bar

Although the touch user interface works, it is not intuitive. If you were hoping that Sidecar would transform the Mac into an iPad where you can use your fingers to touch the screen and move around, alas, that’s not it. The user interface elements in Mac were small enough for it to work reliably.

So when you tap the screen with a finger or try to scroll with a finger, nothing happens. You must use two fingers to scroll. And the only way to click or tap on items is to use Apple Pencil or a mouse connected to iPad (which brings up a cursor on the screen). The Mac keyboard and trackpad, of course, work reliably.

the Apple pencil also cannot be used to navigate the user interface. It can only be used to click and select items on the Mac. Apple Pencil shines when used to draw on the screen in supported applications. It works natively for the Annotation functionality in preview as well as third-party applications like Affinity Photo, Adobe Illustrator, etc.

This means that to successfully use Sidecar as a secondary screen, you will need to get used to a new interaction model. Slide with two fingers to navigate, click and select using Apple Pencil or a mouse. New text selection and editing gestures iOS 13 and iPad 13 also work here.

RELATED: What’s new in macOS 10.15 Catalina, available now

Sidecar compatibility

Sidecar is supported on the following Macs running macOS Catalina:

MacBook Pro introduced in 2016 or later
MacBook introduced in 2016 or later
MacBook Air introduced in 2018 or later
iMac introduced in 2016 or later, plus iMac (Retina 5K, 27 inch, late 2015)
iMac Pro
Mac mini introduced in 2018 or later
Mac Pro introduced in 2019

And on the following iPads with Apple Pencil support running iPadOS 13:

iPad Pro: all models
iPad (6th generation) or later
iPad mini (5th generation)
iPad Air (3rd generation)

Before you start using Sidecar, make sure that both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network and that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are activated on both devices.

How to configure Sidecar

The connection process to Sidecar is the same for wired and wireless connections. If you’re going to use the wired connection method, first connect the Mac to your iPad using a compatible cable.

You can start the Sidecar connection in several ways. The best way is to use the AirPlay option in the menu bar.

If you cannot locate the AirPlay icon in the menu bar, you can activate it by going to System Preferences> Displays and checking the “Show mirroring options in the menu bar when they are are available”.

Show mirroring option for AirPlay

Now click on the “AirPlay” button in the menu bar. Here, select your iPad.

Click to activate Sidecar in the AirPlay menu

And that’s all. The Sidecar function is now activated and your iPad will start to function as an external screen. You can now drag and drop windows from your Mac screen to the iPad.

Alternatively, you can also go to System Preferences> Sidecar then click on the “Select a device” drop-down menu and select your iPad from the list. Sidecar should now work on your iPad.

Connect to Sidecar from System Preferences

How to use and customize Sidecar

Although you can just use the iPad as a secondary monitor, there are specific commands in macOS to improve your experience.

First, you can switch to mirror mode to control the Mac from the iPad. This can be useful while staying in the room but not sitting at the computer.

To do this, click on the “Sidecar” button in the menu bar after connecting the iPad. Then click on “Integrated retina display in mirror”.

Sidecar options in the menu bar

The Sidecar user interface on the iPad is quite simple. You will see a sidebar on the right and a virtual touchbar at the bottom (even if your Mac does not support the touchbar).

Sidecar iPad UIApple

At the top of the sidebar you will find options to show or hide the menu bar and the Dock so that you can activate full screen mode on Mac.

In the middle you will find your modifier keys: Command, Option, Control and Shift. You can press a key twice to lock it.

At the bottom you will see the Cancel, Keyboard and Disconnect options.

The “Keyboard” button brings up the compact floating keyboard of iPadOS which supports gesture input. You can use the “Disconnect” button to end the Sidecar connection.

You can also customize the Sidecar user interface found on the iPad. On your Mac, go to System Preferences> Sidecar.

Click Sidecar in System. preferences

From here, use the drop-down menu next to “Show sidebar” to move the sidebar from left to right. You can also move the Touch Bar up or down from the “Show Touch Bar” option.

In addition, you can uncheck the “Show sidebar” and “Show touchbar” options to deactivate the two elements.

Sidecar options in System Preferences

If you’re an Apple Pencil enthusiast, you can also check the “Enable double tap on Apple Pencil” option to use the double tap gesture as a right click option on the Mac.

To disconnect Sidecar, select the “Disconnect” button in the lower right or left corner (depending on your preferences) of the iPad screen.

Press the Disconnect button to end the Sidecar connection

Alternatively, you can go to the “AirPlay” menu on the menu bar of your Mac and click on the “Disconnect” button.

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