How to get Dual Monitors on MacBook Air

MacBook Air Dual Monitor Set Up
Live render on one screen, while designing on another using Blender.

If you’re like me and do 99% of your work on a MacBook Air, you know that your somewhat diminutive screen doesn’t always provide as much usable real estate as you would like. Especially if, also like me, you are a 3D Artist and Graphic Designer.

Designers and artists need real estate when it comes to our screens… a lot of it. It’s not just because we like to gaze lovingly at our creations, because we do, but because it also affords us the ability to pull back and take in the big picture while still being able to access and use the plethora of tools, palettes, buttons, and menus that crowd our workspace.

I bought my 13″ MacBook Air for the size, portability and the fact that i could use it on my lap without burning my legs… most of the time. I maxed out the configuration to keep it as forward compatible as possible, and I love this laptop! It’s quick, powerful, starts up faster than any PC or iOS device, and is still going strong after a little more than three years. It’s beautiful, but small.

I have used MacBook Air with bigger monitors and that works well, but I no longer have an office with a desk set up and a monitor to sit down to. So, I have to be clever with my workspaces and take full advantage of OS X’s multiple desktops. For most things it works fairly well, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is how I work.

Until Now. . .Introducing Duet Display

Yesterday, I discovered Duet DisplayThis is a fantastic app! It allows you to extend your desktop to your iPad or iPhone from you MacBook or MacBook Air. Duet Display claims that the app delivers up to 60 frames per second with no lag. This app definitely delivers that even on my older MacBook Air and iPad 3. Now obviously the iPad screen isn’t as big as my monitor on my MacBook Air, but as a secondary monitor it’s practically perfect. I slide whatever palettes or windows over to the iPad and keep my main workspace on the MacBook Air screen. As you can see in the picture above, when I’m working in 3D using Blender, I can slide my live render window over to my iPad so I can actually see what’s happening as I tweak settings on my laptop. Previously, this required me to switch between windows or squint.

There’s also no noticeable hit on resources on my iPad. I usually use my iPad to play music from Spotify or Pandora to make it easier to switch music or skip tracks without having to go back and forth between programs on my laptop, and both of them run fine while using Duet Display. The controls in my earbuds still work for stop, skip and volume.

Another feature, that I really haven’t gotten much use out of yet, is that your iPad (or iPhone) screen’s touch controls allow you to use your finger as the mouse pointer to control that desktop. You have to slide your mouse back over to your MacBook, but still some could find that useful.

I don’t really see the point of connecting your iPhone. Unless you are a pixie or some other magical small creature.

Set up

MacBook Air Duet Set up
Setting your Display Arrangement.

Duet Display is extremely simple to use. First, download Duet Display from the iOS App Store on your iPad or iPhone and then head over to their companion website to download and install the helper app for your MacBook (requires restart). Next, take your Lightning or 30 pin cable and connect your iPad to your MacBook or MacBook Air. Start the app on your iPad and voila! You have two monitors. Your mouse pointer slides between them just like you would expect it to, unless you have your iPad on the wrong side of your MacBook. To change the screen order, simply head to your Display Setting in OS X System preferences, click the “Arrangement” button and drag the smaller screen to either side of the bigger screen. Duet Display has also provided a shortcut to the Display Arrangement window that you access by clicking the helper icon in the OS X menu bar.

I’ve read about a couple other multiple display apps, some of which work over wifi, but they are plagued by lag and connection issues. The article where I discovered Duet Display, was actually an article reviewing one of the other wifi based apps. Ironically, that app had just added a cable connection option to fight screen lag from wifi.

Duet Display is a great app. If you need more screen with portability, then check this one out. As of today, 2/28/15, it’s on sale for half price $7.99, but I’m not sure how long that will last.

For the record, I don’t know anyone at Duet Display, nor is this an advertisement by them. I just think they make a great app.

Hit me up in the comments and tell me what you think!

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