macOS Catalina and iPadOS: How the New Sidecar Feature Works to Turn an iPad Into a Secondary Mac Display

Discussion in 'Guides, How Tos and Reviews' started by MacRumors, Jun 27, 2019.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    macOS Catalina and iPadOS include support for a new feature called Sidecar, designed to let you use your iPad as a secondary display for your Mac. Sidecar is quick, simple to use, and can either mirror content on your Mac or turn it into a secondary display for extra screen real estate no matter where you are.

    This guide covers everything you need to know about Sidecar, from how to use it to compatibility to Apple Pencil integration.

    How to Activate Sidecar

    Using Sidecar requires a compatible Mac running macOS Catalina and a compatible iPad running iOS 13. There are multiple ways to activate Sidecar, all of which can be done from Catalina.

    The easiest way to get to Sidecar is to use the AirPlay interface on the Mac. When you click the AirPlay icon at the top of the Menu bar (it's the one that looks like a screen with an arrow), if you have an iPad that's compatible with Sidecar, it will show up in the AirPlay list.


    From there, simply choose the iPad that you want to connect to and it will automatically turn on and be activated as a secondary Mac display.

    You can also get to Sidecar by clicking and holding the green window expansion button on any Mac app, and you can access Sidecar in the Sidecar section of System Preferences.

    Using Sidecar

    Sidecar is designed as a secondary Mac display, so it works like any other secondary display you might use with your Mac. You can drag windows from the Mac to the iPad and vice versa, and interact with both using your Mac's trackpad.


    Sidecar is not designed to work with touch gestures, so while you can tap some on-screen control options or scroll through some webpages, you're mostly meant to control things with either the trackpad or mouse of your Mac or with the Apple Pencil. That's because Sidecar is not meant to bring touch controls to Mac - it's just a secondary display option.

    Apple Pencil Integration

    When using Sidecar, the Apple Pencil (first or second generation depending on your iPad) serves as a mouse alternative for clicking, selecting, and other on-screen control tasks. Think of the Apple Pencil as a mouse or trackpad when using it with Sidecar.


    In apps like Photoshop and Illustrator, the Apple Pencil does even more. You can draw right in Photoshop or other similar Mac apps, which transforms the iPad into a graphics tablet for your Mac, not unlike a Wacom graphics tablet. It's a great way to create art, edit photos, and more with the interactivity of your Apple Pencil but the power of your Mac.

    Keyboard Integration

    When using a keyboard like Apple's Smart Keyboard with an iPad, the keyboard serves as an alternative to the Mac keyboard, letting you type like you would on the Mac in any open window.


    Wired or Wireless Connection

    Your Mac can be connected to your iPad over a wired or wireless connection. For a wired connection, you'll need an appropriate cable, such as a USB-C to USB-C cable for the newest iPad Pros or a USB-C to Lightning cable for Lightning-equipped iPad models.

    Using a wired connection allows your iPad to charge and it should cut down on any latency issues you might see from a poor wireless connection. Using Sidecar over a wireless connection works well, though it might not work quite as well when connection speeds are low.

    Using a wireless connection requires your iPad to be within 10 meters of your Mac, which is actually pretty far.

    Touch Bar and Controls

    Sidecar puts a control sidebar on your iPad for doing things like hiding or showing the dock, bringing up the on-screen keyboard, closing a window, or accessing controls like Shift, Command, Option, and Control.

    Sidecar also adds a Touch Bar to the bottom of the iPad, which is the same as the Touch Bar on the Touch Bar-compatible MacBook Pro models. Even if your Mac doesn't naturally have a Touch Bar, these Touch Bar controls will show up.

    Touch Bar controls will pop up for Apple apps and for third-party apps that have implemented support for the Touch Bar.

    Accessing Sidecar Settings

    If you click on the AirPlay icon while your Mac is connected to your iPad, you can see some quick controls for doing things like hiding the sidebar or hiding the Touch Bar, and there's also an option to swap between using the iPad as a separate display or mirroring the Mac's current display.

    Additional Sidecar options can be found by opening up System Preferences and choosing the Sidecar section. In this spot, you can move the sidebar to the left or the right of the screen, move the Touch Bar to the bottom or the top of the screen, or enable double tap on Apple Pencil.


    Apple hasn't provided specific details on which Macs are compatible with Sidecar, but macOS Catalina's code suggests it is limited to newer Macs. Sidecar works with the following machines:

    [*]Late 2015 27" iMac or newer
    [*]Mid 2016 MacBook Pro or newer
    [*]Late 2018 Mac mini or newer
    [*]Late 2018 MacBook Air or newer
    [*]Early 2016 MacBook or newer
    [*]2019 Mac Pro
    [*]2017 iMac Pro

    Many older machines are blacklisted from taking advantage of Sidecar, but some older Macs can use the feature via a Terminal command provided by developer Steve Troughton-Smith. There are few details on this method, but those interested can check out our original article on compatibility.

    Sidecar should be compatible with all iPads that are capable of running iPadOS, which includes the following models:

    [*]All iPad Pros
    [*]iPad (6th generation)
    [*]iPad (5th generation)
    [*]iPad mini (5th generation)
    [*]iPad mini 4
    [*]iPad Air (3rd generation)
    [*]iPad Air 2

    All of the compatibility information above will be updated once we hear word from Apple on which iPads and Macs are getting official Sidecar support.

    Guide Feedback

    Have questions about Sidecar, know of a feature we left out, or want to offer feedback on this guide? Send us an email here.

    Article Link: macOS Catalina and iPadOS: How the New Sidecar Feature Works to Turn an iPad Into a Secondary Mac Display
  2. Blizzardman macrumors regular


    Apr 7, 2010
    Gilbert, Arizona
    Is there any wifi requirements between the iPad and the Mac? I know with Duet wireless will only work on home networks and I have trouble at work when I am on VPN etc.
  3. mariusignorello macrumors 68000

    Jun 9, 2013
    Heads up if you choose to run Sidecar using the Terminal workaround...the video quality is poor.
  4. bryanl17 macrumors newbie

    Jun 27, 2019
    What case do you have on the iPad in the video?
  5. kingofwale macrumors 6502a


    Apr 24, 2010
    only works with laptops with horrible keyboard... no thanks
  6. PhillyGuy72 macrumors 65816


    Sep 13, 2014
    Philadelphia, PA USA
    Nice. I've been working something similar since 2015, Astropad - on my 2015 iPad Pro and my older iMac. Been a big help with 1st Gen Apple Pencil and my desktop Illustrator.
  7. Aldaris macrumors 68000


    Sep 7, 2004
    Salt Lake
    Biggest blunder in my opinion. Back in the day new OS upgrades had their limitations on machines and Apple would list them out (supported features like iChat back in the day etc). Catalina makes no mention in what will and won’t work— poor move Apple. Make a big deal out of side car and then make a big deal that it’s running on macs from 2012... smh
  8. Optheduim macrumors regular

    Jun 9, 2011
    Wait... so we’re not getting full gesture functionality?
  9. Analog Kid macrumors 601

    Analog Kid

    Mar 4, 2003
    If someone with a 2013 MBP wants to give this a try, I'd be interested in the results. Not looking promising, but I'd love to get rid of Duet...
  10. jerryk, Jun 27, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019

    jerryk macrumors 601

    Nov 3, 2011
    SF Bay Area
    Might be interesting. I have iPad Pro 11 and 2018 15 MBP
  11. imola.zhp macrumors 6502a


    Jun 1, 2010
    Mud Island (Memphis), TN
    Still going Luna, so I don’t have to upgrade my Mac mini and I can for sure use it as the primarily display for the mini. Still unsure if that is possible with Sidecar.
    Now I just need to decide on an iPad, find a deal on Luna and sell my MBP.
  12. nylon macrumors 65816


    Oct 26, 2004
    Can you invoke Sidecar from the iPad? It would be nice to be able to do so if for example you had your iPad with you and your Mac was in another room and you needed to quickly do something on the Mac. It would also be great if you wanted to have a headless Mac mini.
  13. lehrblogger macrumors newbie


    Mar 7, 2010
    Detroit suburbs
    I'm also interested a headless Mac mini, especially when traveling. The iPad is great for airplanes, but I want macOS when I arrive. Luna has tried to support this, but I'd never go without FileVault, especially when out of my house. I thought maybe a wired, first-party device could handle the security restrictions. Does anyone know if this will work?
  14. macduke macrumors G4


    Jun 27, 2007
    Central U.S.
    I'd assume it's ad hoc. Why? Because the distance you can use it isn't measured from the router, but from the Mac. This means it uses a direct wireless connection. So in theory you could use this in the field.

    I've really been looking forward to this for a long time. I got so fed up with Duet Display's glitchy behavior that I haven't used it in ages. Also as my iPads got bigger and higher resolution, it didn't seem like the refresh rates and quality were keeping up, even wired.

    I just installed iPadOS this evening. Really liking it so far. About to do some testing with my various drives.
  15. rowspaxe macrumors 68020


    Jan 29, 2010
    While think it is cool Apple did this, the ultimate utility of this may not be great, even for artists. Many
    Ios apps now take keyboard commands, which combined with increased icloud support makes the
    import of x64 art applications less important. Generally speaking, 12.3 is a pretty small second monitor
  16. Precursor macrumors 6502a


    Sep 29, 2015

    Yes you can. The sidecar view is like an app on the ipad that you can swipe aside and continue using your ipad normally
  17. FourDegrees macrumors member

    Jan 25, 2017
    Duet just needs both devices on the same network. I use it at home, at uni on the Enterprise network, and at work.
  18. amssullivan28 macrumors newbie


    Apr 14, 2016
    Gold Coast, Australia
    Looks like 21.5” iMacs aren’t officially supported-even 2017 and 2019 models.
  19. MEJHarrison macrumors 65816

    Feb 2, 2009
    While I can certainly see where this may not be useful for some people in some situations, there are other use cases. I'm a developer. Now I can have XCode open and running on my 27" iMac, and have the simulator running on my 11" iPad. For me, that's a fantastic use of this technology. It just depends on what you want to do with it.
  20. jjudson macrumors regular

    Sep 20, 2017
    North Carolina
    Has anyone tried this with Photoshop and Lightroom, using the iPad as an editing tablet ala Wacom? He mentions it briefly in the video, but I'd like more detail if any of you beta testers worked with it.
  21. nylon macrumors 65816


    Oct 26, 2004
    I don’t think you can start sidecar from the iPad. You have to start it from the Mac and then you can minimize the app on the iPad and resume as you like. This doesn’t solve the issue.
  22. tegranjeet macrumors member


    Apr 5, 2019
    Boulder, CO
    It's too bad portrait mode isn't supported. Having a terminal full screen portrait mode would be a perfect use of side car.
  23. SkippyThorson macrumors 68000


    Jul 22, 2007
    Utica, NY
    The findings, if true, going all the way back to the iPad Air 2 but excluding the current Mac Pro, is just bizarre.
  24. Dorje Sylas macrumors 6502

    Jun 8, 2011
    Took them way too long to do Sidecar. This should have been a pair-up back with the release of the original iPad.

    On that, don't expect much stability out of the Wireless connection method. Having used 3rd party Apps of various types for exactly this functionality, Wired has been the only stable method. Splashtop Wired XDisplay has been great, and I'm waiting for SpaceDesk X10 to add USB connection to Tablet/Phone.

    I only have my iPad2 and an Adonit Jot Classic to go by. On a wired XDisplay its been passable. On WiFi, unusable. The latency is just too high. And this going from the iPad2 to a 2008 MacPro turned Windows10 box.

    I would still consider a full drawing screen if I had the budget and major professional need. The biggest headache is the iPad is still a full surface touch screen, so any incidental contact with the surface can make the "mouse" freak out. Don't rest your wrist, palm, or arm on it.
  25. sfwalter macrumors 68000


    Jan 6, 2004
    Dallas Texas
    Do you get pen pressure in apps like Photoshop?

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