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Mobility Digest Review: Air Display Review

Based on several reported studies dual monitor setups have shown to increase work productivity. Thus Air Display09 adding a second display even a small one can make most users work more efficiently. Today we will be looking at Air Display which is an iPad app that leverages the iPad screen as a secondary display when networked to a Mac machine. Although the iPad screen is smaller in relation to most Apple displays it still provides additional real estate for running programs outside of the main screen.

Another exciting feature using Air Display is the ability to use the iPad as a tablet input device. Using the iPad as the secondary display you can move tool palettes from programs such as Word, Excel, Photoshop off the main screen.

Air Display works on a server (Mac machine) and client (iPad) model similar to the Synergy program which allows a single mouse and keyboard to control machines running different operating systems such as Windows, Linux and OSx via networking protocols.

Air Display retails for $9.99 and works with Macs running OS X. 10.5.8 or higher. Currently Air Display only works with OS X but Avatron Software is working on a Windows version as well.


Author: Tomas Ratas

VendorAvatron Software

Price: $9.99

Overall Rating: 4/5

Air Display

Developed by Avatron Software, home of the popular Air Sharing apps, Air Display lets you position your iPad next to your computer, drag windows onto it, and interact with those windows as you would on any other computer display.

Air Display’s performance is extremely responsive, employing a clever dynamic compression algorithm. On a typical Wi-Fi network, mouse cursor refreshes are indistinguishable from a wired mouse.

Air Display works in both landscape and portrait configurations. Just rotate your screen, and it automatically reconfigures.

Air Display makes a laptop much more useful. Adding the iPad’s 1024×768 display nearly doubles the screen area of a MacBook Air or 13″ MacBook.

Air Display not only gives you a wireless computer screen extender, but also works as a tablet input device. You can use your finger to draw directly on the screen’s surface. Try it with a Mac calculator app, painting tool, or music control surface!

Some great uses for Air Display:

  • Fill your iPad screen with your utility apps, like iChat, Mail, iCal, and Calculator.

  • Graphic designers: Make Photoshop and Illustrator usable on your laptop by putting your tool palettes on the iPad screen.

  • Musicians: Use your iPad as the ultimate control surface for Logic or Pro Tools.

  • Programmers: Use the extra display area for such auxiliary development tools as Console, Terminal, and the Debugger.

  • Business professionals: Move all of your iWork and Office palettes and inspector windows onto the iPad, and let your document fill the screen.

  • Find your own uses!

On first launch, Air Display presents easy instructions for downloading and installing the companion Mac software.


The Air Display support software is only compatible with Mac OS X 10.5.8 (Intel only) or greater. Windows users, stay tuned! Windows support software will be available soon.

Impressions / Review:

Installation involves buying the app from the iTunes app store and then downloading the server program from the Avatron website. This application installs a Preference Pane onto on to the System Preferences section. Once installation is complete the system needs to be rebooted.

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After the reboot you will see an Air Display icon on the OS X menu bar. Activating the Air Display server can also be controlled directly from the System Preferences section. Once the server software is running simply click on the Air Display app on the iPad to get dual screen goodness going.

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If everything is successful you should have a blank screen on your iPad with your desktop wallpaper. To use the iPad as a secondary screen simply drag the OS X application you wish to run onto that screen. Clicking on the round green button on the top left of each application will expand it to fill up the iPad screen.

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The software is intelligent enough to change the resolution and orientation if you move the iPad from landscape to portrait and vice versa.

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Here are images of Air Display running on an iPad with a 24" iMac and a 15" MacBook Pro. The iPad is dwarfed by the much larger display of the 24" iMac but matches up more equally with the 15" MacBook Pro. The only other requirement for Air Display would be an iPad stand to help keep the Apple tablet in line with the Mac machine it is working in conjunction with.

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Air Display works by wirelessly connecting the iPad to a Mac on the same home network. Since Air Display uses wireless networking you may be a little lag noticeable when dragging applications from the Mac display to the iPad one. I observed this on occasion but it was not terribly noticeable.

Using the iPad as a secondary display you get an optimal resolution of 768×1024 in landscape or 1024×768 in portrait orientations. To manage the screen position of the iPad’s display (to the left or right of the Mac) you will need to go into the Display settings on the System Preferences and change the position on from the Arrangement subscreen.


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Using the touch screen interface of the iPad in conjunction with OS X adds a new dimension to the Mac OS X experience. For instance I was able to control my Sonos system from my work area with the touch of a finger. For those who work with Photoshop, I can see this being especially useful with all the tools and side panels used within the Adobe program.

As someone who uses a dual monitor setup with my PC I can appreciate the ability to use my iPad as a secondary display with my iMac and or MacBook Pro. The main problem with Air Display is the size of the iPad screen itself. The smaller display is acceptable for running IM clients, social networking applications, torrent clients or tool palettes but other applications need the big screen real estate. The iPad does not replace a larger secondary display which can run a full web browser, spreadsheet or word processing document but it is useful enough to help increase productivity and opening some real estate up on the main Mac screen.


For the capabilities provided for the $9.99 price, the Air Display app is well worth the investment. Air Display gives the Mac user a secondary touch interface screen to manage smaller applications or house tools from more intensive programs such as Photoshop, Aperture and Final Cut. Although the 9.7 inch screen of the iPad will not replace a secondary 15" or larger LCD, it will definitely help increase your productivity, plus it looks pretty cool as well.

+Touch screen input
+1024×768 display
+Creates dual OS X monitor setup

-Only for Mac (for time being)
-Occasional lag
-Both iPad and Mac must be on same network