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Home / Mac / Sidecar in iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina: Works seamlessly between an iPad and Mac

Sidecar in iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina: Works seamlessly between an iPad and Mac

The core experience of using Sidecar is fantastic. Part of the reason is that running an iPad as another monitor for a Mac with Sidecar is immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used multiple monitors. The extra screen property, portability and functionality are also part of the appeal. Of course there are differences that I want to get into, but Sidecar is so close to a traditional dual screen setup that I expect it to be a natural extension of the way many people work on Mac.

There is more going on with Sidecar though, which didn't work out for me until I had used it for a while. One of the themes that emerged from this year's WWDC is deeper integration across all of Apple's platforms. As I've written before, SwiftUI is designed to achieve it in the long term across all devices Apple makes. In contrast, Catalyst is a short-term way of connecting Mac and iPad more closely by bringing iPad apps to the Mac and encouraging developers to build more robust iPad apps.

Sidecar strikes me as part of the same story. Apple made it clear when they introduced Catalyst in 201

8 at WWDC that it does not replace macOS with iOS. Some tasks are better suited for a Mac than an iPad and vice versa. Sidecar recognizes these differences by letting an iPad become an extension of the Mac for tasks best suited to it. At the same time, however, Sidecar utilizes the functionality not available on Mac, such as Apple Pencil. Combined with the ability to seamlessly switch between using Mac apps running in Sidecar and native iPadOS apps, what you have is a touchscreen Mac.

However, to understand the potential locking of Sidecar, it is necessary to first delve into the details of what the new feature enables as well as its limitations.

Compatibility and Setup

Sidecar is available on iPads running iPadOS 13. Apple has not officially said which Macs will work with Sidecar, but they do need to run macOS Catalina and according to research by Steve Troughton-Smith :

Sidecar supports iMac 27 ”(late 2015) or later, MacBook Pro (2016) or later, Mac mini (2018), Mac Pro (2019), MacBook Air (2018), [and] MacBook (early 2016 or later).

Sidecar works both wirelessly and over a wired connection. Wired connections do not need WiFi and support both Lightning and USB-C cables. Wireless connectivity also works well, but a wired connection is a bit faster, and as a bonus, your iPad will charge while connected to your Mac.

With a wireless connection, both devices must be connected to WiFi, but they do not need an Internet connection. That's because Sidecar establishes a direct peer-to-peer connection over your WiFi network that does not use the Internet as an intermediary.

Starting a Sidecar session is as simple as using AirPlay. There are three ways to get connected. The first is from the AirPlay button in the Mac menu bar, which appears if you have the 'Show mirror options in menu bar when available' checkbox checked in the View section of the Mac system's System Preferences. If you're running Catalina on Mac and iPadOS 13 on iPad, click the AirPlay button, and in the drop-down menu you'll see a section labeled & # 39; Connect & # 39; which includes all devices within range you can AirPlay to.

On the screenshot above you can see an iPad called John's iPad, which is my 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Selecting an iPad from the AirPlay menu will initiate the connection, causing a brief flash of the Mac screen. After a couple of seconds with a wired connection and a few more seconds when you connect wirelessly, your iPad will be up and running like a second screen.

Another way to connect your Mac to an iPad is from the Monitors section of the Mac's system selections. At the bottom of the window is an AirPlay Display drop-down menu that offers the same connectivity options available in the menu bar. Select iPad from the list and a new Mac Desktop will appear on the iPad. Finally, you can also connect from the Sidecar section of the Mac system's System Preferences, which offers a drop-down list of only available iPads.

It is worth noting that Sidecar can only handle one iPad at a time. If you have more than one iPad in range, you'll see both available to connect to your Mac, but they can't be connected at the same time.

However, you can connect an external monitor and iPad to a Mac at the same time. In testing, I attached an LG 4K external 27-inch display to the MacBook Pro that I have done many times before via HDMI, and connected my iPad Pro using Sidecar, which allowed me to operate each device as if all three were an extended display. It's not a setup I expect to use often, but it's nice to know it's an option.

Sidecars Second-Screen Experience

The core experience when connecting an iPad to Sidecar is just like running a dual screen setup with a Mac, whether it's an open Mac laptop with an attached screen, a Mac mini connected to two external displays, or similar configurations. Of course, there are differences that take advantage of iPads unique capabilities and address the limitations of using a Mac app on an iPad, which I will soon get to, but the immediate "out-of-the-box" experience is what you can expect.

As with all multi-screen configurations, you can adjust the screens from the Display section of System Preferences on your Mac. There you can assign which screen is left and right and drag the menu bar to the screen where you want it to appear, but that's just about everything. The iPad resolution is set to 1288 x 945 for my iPad Pro, which means you can't scale the view or use Sidecar in Split View. Although several color profiles are listed in the Color tab of the screens, you also cannot change the color profile for the iPad.

Other adjustments are available from the AirPlay menu bar. When connected to an iPad, the menu bar icon becomes a blue rounded rectangle. Click it while connected, and you will find options to mirror or expand your Mac screen. By default, Sidecar expands your Mac screen, allowing you to place different apps on each screen. This is how I found myself using Sidecar frequently. For example, I can run a text editor on one screen and keep reference material such as notes and a browser on the other screen.

The other option is to use Sidecar to mirror the Mac screen, so the two are the same. One reason to set up an iPad this way is as an easy way to share your screen with someone else so they can see what happens from the iPad when you demonstrate something on the Mac.

But often, when I use Sidecar in mirror mode, to change where I work. I can run my Mac, grab the iPad in mirror mode, and get comfortable on the couch while still interacting with the apps on the Mac. I don't use this layout regularly, but if I have a lot to do and have sat at a desk or table for a long time, it's nice to move to the couch and finish up there.

Sidecar benefits from the iPad's Retina display. Photos and text are crisp, and working in apps feels natural and resembles the original Mac experience. In most everyday use cases, externally connecting to Sidecar does not result in any noticeable lag. However, some interactions do not match the corresponding original iPad experience. For example, scrolling quickly feels stuck in mud compared to scrolling in an iPad app; it lacks the same smooth inertia response and frames are dropped. This is especially pronounced in Safari where inertial scrolling does not work at all. As I will come soon, drawing with the Apple Pencil is excellent in some apps, but not all.

It is also worth noting that using an iPad as an external wireless monitor has hard limits. Apple says the feature works within about 10 feet, which works just about right. In my tests, I had no trouble staying connected when using my iPad in the same room as my Mac. It's great to use Sidecar right next to my Mac, because there is no noticeable lag at all. However, when you reach the limits of Sidecar's reach, the lag becomes noticeable and eventually stops working completely, showing an error indicating that you are getting closer to your Mac or disconnecting. If you want to work on your Mac from an iPad more than 10 feet away, a Luna Display that works over WiFi is a better option. You can walk anywhere on the local network.

One of my favorite sites for Sidecar is the new option added to the green "traffic light" button in the upper left corner of Mac app windows. When you hover your mouse over this button on your Mac, options for moving the window to other connected screens, including any iPad-connected iPad, appear. The new option is a handy way to quickly manage windows between screens without long drag from one screen to the other. The same functionality works from the iPad to move windows back to your Mac.

Connecting Mac and iPad with Sidecar has been fast and reliable throughout the beta period. However, I wish the feature went a little further. I would like to be able to start a Sidecar session from my iPad. When I'm on my Mac, I'm sitting at a corner facing desk. I have a project table perpendicular to the desktop where I often work with the iPad Pro. Having the ability to connect me to the Mac over my shoulder without turning to activate Sidecar would be a minor interruption, but at least Sidecar is only enabled from your Mac. For the same reasons, I would like to have the option of dragging windows to my iPad instead of just pushing them from the Mac, although it will undoubtedly be difficult to design in a way that works well with multi-window apps .


By and large, an iPad connected to a Mac with Sidecar works like any other monitor. However, an iPad is not a mute connected screen like my 4K LG. It has a touch screen interface that Apple has adapted to work in Mac apps. The differences present both opportunities and challenges with Sidecar.


Apple could have treated an iPad running Sidecar as a mute monitor and directed all interactions with Mac apps through the Mac input devices, but it did not. Instead, iPad accepts touch and other input directly from the attached iPad.

Touch interactions in Sidecar do not work the same as in a separate iPad app, which takes a little getting used to. However, combined with the sidebar and virtual touch bar, the system Apple has made remarkably well. I will cover the sidebar and virtual touchline later, but first I will explain how touch interactions with a Mac app work on an iPad.

Tapping UI elements with your finger and scrolling with a single finger are probably the two most common interactions with an iPad touch screen, but neither works in Sidecar. Finger taps are not recorded at all. Instead, use the Apple Pencil to check the pointer, cursor position, and selection. It's undoubtedly because of the smaller touch targets in Mac apps, but it's hard to get used to. A setting in Sidecar's System Preferences section also allows you to double-click with the Apple Pencil as a replacement for a double-click. If you don't have an Apple Pencil, you still have options because you can use a mouse or trackpad connected to your Mac to control the cursor, but Apple Pencil and an attached keyboard are the arrow keys that are the only ways to control the cursor from the iPad .

The scrolling is also different. Swipe with a single finger on the iPad screen and nothing happens. Apple Pencil doesn't work either. To scroll, use a two-finger swipe. As with controlling the cursor, the shift is difficult to get used to at first.

Other gestures also work. The Apple pencil can be swept across the surface of an iPad to select text, for example. Also, the new iPad gestures for Undo, Repeat, Copy and Paste are supported. A three-finger double-tap or swipe from right to left triggers an Undo command. A three-finger swipe from left to right triggers Redo, and a three-finger pinch and spread control. Copy and paste respectively.

However, Apple Pencil is not limited to cursor control in Sidecar. Apple has built Continuity support into Sidecar, which allows the pencil to be used for things like marking up a PDF in Quick Look mode from the Finder or the Preview app. Mac apps that have tablet support also benefit from the pencil for more complex operations. Apple's MacOS Catalina preview shows the following apps as & # 39; Sidebar ready & # 39 ;:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Affinity Designer
  • Affinity Photo
  • Cinema 4D
  • CorelDRAW
  • DaVinci Resolve [19659035] Final Cut Pro
  • Maya
  • Exercise
  • Painter
  • Principle
  • Sketch
  • Substance Designer
  • Substance Painter
  • Brush

In my test I used Sidecar with Markup from the Finder and Preview, Microsoft Word and Affinity Designer. This is the part of Sidecar where the backlog sometimes becomes a problem. It's important to remember that I do not use the released version of macOS Catalina or iPadOS 13, but from publishing this story, pencil performance in the app is noticeably worse in some apps than using it in a separate iPad app, even when my Mac is connected to a USB-C cable for my iPad Pro.

Teams are most pronounced in Markup via Quick Look and Preview, where it makes writing difficult. Often when you mark a PDF with notes, Markup comes in behind two or three letters before they appear on the screen. I experienced a similar problem with Microsoft Word. However, Affinity Designer performed much better, with almost no noticeable difference in performance compared to its iPadOS app.

If you already interact with your iPad user interface primarily with an Apple Pencil, I expect Sidecar to come to you more naturally than it would for others. There are still differences in how you interact with the pencil compared to using your own iPad app, but getting used to these changes over time. The change I suspect will be most difficult for heavy pencil users is the fact that you can't use it to scroll. However, the learning curve is steeper if you are used to tapping the screen to move the cursor around a text document. Even though I use my Apple Pencil, I still touch the screen as I type to move the insertion point in a document. Having to hold my pencil when my hands are on a keyboard is not ideal, but it is tolerable.

Keyboards and pointing devices

Keyboards are a challenge for Sidecar. The viewing area you work on an iPad remains fixed. As a result, the iPad system keyboard is not available to you in Sidecar. Instead, the sidebar has a keyboard button that displays a mini-iPhone keyboard on the screen that floats above the Mac content and can be moved to any position in the sidebar viewing area. To accommodate modification keys, the sidebar also includes command, option, control, and shift keys. If you press and hold one, set the modifier key. Alternatively, you can double-click a modifier key to lock it.

The floating keyboard and sidebar modifier keys are fine for entering a small amount of text, but I much prefer to use an external keyboard such as Apple's Smart Keyboard Folio or Brydge Pro Bluetooth keyboard. Both are supported and work well, but like the pencil, the interaction is a bit different here too.

When working natively on an iPad, you can call the system keyboard even when connected to an external keyboard. It is not possible in Sidecar. If you press the keypad button in the sidebar's sidebar with an external keypad attached, the keypad button appears to be selected, but the keypad does not appear on the screen.

Another strange thing is that Command + Q does not work from an external iPad keyboard. I suspect this is a mistake, because other Mac-specific hotkeys work in Mac apps running in Sidecar. Quitting an app can still be achieved, but you must use the Command Key sidebar in combination with the 'Q' key on the external keyboard.

You also cannot control the system-level hotkeys from an iPad's external keyboard. For example, it is not possible to call Siri or Spotlight with a keyboard shortcut from an iPad keyboard. The same is true at least for some apps that have global hot keys like Alfred.

There are a handful of system components that can be confusing at times as well. For example, if you use Command + Tab on an iPad running Sidecar, iPadOS app switches, not Macs, and Command + Space assigned to Spotlight on many Macs enable iPadOS & Search instead for Spotlight on Mac.

Keyboard control It may not be without detection, but as the name of the feature itself suggests, Sidecar is intended to supplement, not replace, the Mac. The differences in hardware and software between Mac and iPad make it inevitable that iPad cannot recreate the exact Mac experience in Sidecar, but in daily use as an extension of my Mac that not only shows more content but allows me to work on Mac – my apps, Sidecar is remarkably stable.

Just like a standard dual screen setup, a mouse or trackpad connected to your Mac can control the Mac interface displayed on your iPad. Surprisingly, the layout doesn't work the other way around. If you connect a pointing device to your iPad with iPadOS accessibility settings, it cannot control the Mac or Mac screen interface displayed on the iPad.

I've already covered a lot of what the sidebar can do, but it has a few more features I haven't mentioned. At the top of the sidebar are buttons for displaying the Mac menu bar and Dock. If you are running a Mac app in full screen mode on iPad, you will see the menu bar by pressing the menu bar button. The Dock works the same way, causing the Dock Mac to appear at the bottom of the Sidecar view, just above the virtual touch bar.

In the lower part of the sidebar, under the modification keys that I have already covered, there is undo, keyboard and disconnect. Be careful with the undo button. At least with written text, it is very aggressive, and often deletes multiple sentences at once. It is also dangerous because it is not connected with a re-button, so if you enter something, there is no way to go back to where you started. I'm not sure why this button is needed because undo and redo work in the Mac apps running in Sidecar, but if you work without an external keyboard and Apple Pencil, I guess the sidebar undo button would be the only way to undo what you type with the sidebar keyboard.

I have already covered the keypad button, which calls for an iPhone-like keyboard that can be held anywhere over the sidewall display area. Below is a Disconnect button that will end the Sidecar session and collect your windows back on your Mac. You can also disconnect Sidecar from the Mac menu bar and the Sidecar and Displays sections of System Preferences.

Two other things about the sidebar are worth noting. The first is that both it and the virtual touchpad are finger-tapping, unlike the Sidecar viewing area. For more screen properties, you can hide it and the touch bar from the menu bar or Sidebar section of System Preferences. From system selections, you can also swap sidebar from left to right on the iPad screen and the touch bar from the bottom to the top of the screen. However, during the beta, I found that hiding and moving the sidebar and virtual touch bar are incorrect, sometimes causing the Touch Bar to disappear and requiring restarting of the Mac and / or iPad.

I'm surprised at how much I like Sidecar's virtual touch line. I rarely use the touchpad on the MacBook Pro, but having it at the bottom of the screen that I look at instead of the keyboard, and on a device I'm already used to interacting with on the touch, has made a difference. I don't use the touchpad all the time, but I definitely use it more.

There is not much more to say about the touchpad because it displays the same options that you would find on a touchpad-enabled keyboard. However, the virtual touch bar also works even if you use it with a Mac that doesn't have a touch bar, like my Mac mini.

Finally, I want to touch Sidecar as an app. Like other apps on the iPad, Sidecar has an icon; it is blue and shows a portable Mac and iPad that intersect. If you switch away from Sidecar to use another app on your iPad, you will see the Sidecar icon in the last app section of the iPad dock and it will appear in the iPadOS app switch. However, sidecar is not like other iPad apps.

You cannot place Sidecar on a Home screen or in the iPad dock. If you place your iPad in & # 39; Reorganize apps & # 39; mode, the Sidecar icon will start wobbling with the rest of your apps and has a small minus symbol in the corner. You can pick up the Sidecar app icon and drag it. However, you cannot drop the icon anywhere on the dock or on a Home screen. Pointing to the minus symbol in the corner of the icon does nothing. Finally, if you force quit Sidecar from the iPad app switcher interface, after a few seconds, Sidecar will reconnect and the Mac screen will reappear if you are on the iPad screen or in another app.

Sidecar is an app-only swap app, which is a shame because, as I mentioned before, I will be able to start a Sidecar session from my iPad instead of just from the Mac. For now, however, that type of functionality is only available with a solution like Luna Display.

Other Limitations and Bugs

This is a preview of Sidecar, and the iPadOS and macOS beta are buggies at this time in the summer than in recent years, which is important to keep in mind because many of the unevenness of Sidecar and others apps and OS features we preview can be released this fall. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out some of the problems I have had with Sidecar for those who are running beta or thinking of trying them.

In my experience, macOS has never managed to put a laptop in clam mode gracefully. The situation is no different with Sidecar. Closing the lid on the MacBook Pro locks my iPad running Sidecar, which makes sense since that's what happens to the Mac as well. The same thing happens when my Mac goes into sleep mode. However, I have not managed to get Sidecar to continue after I unlocked both devices. Instead, I need to disconnect and connect to a new Sidecar session. It's not very good, but it would give a smoother experience if I could get myself where I left off when I opened the Mac again and unlocked the iPad.

Sidecar does not always handle interactions with iPadOS well. If a message arrives from the Messages app, I can interact with the notification that appears at the top of the screen, but I cannot enter a reply online.

Slide Over also works when in Sidecar mode, but every time I've used it, my keyboard has lost connection to the sidecar and prevented me from typing. This is true whether I'm trying to use Apple's Smart Keyboard Folio, an external Bluetooth keyboard or even the Sidecar software keyboard. Apple Pencil still works, but in order to continue typing, I've had to unplug and reconnect the keyboard.

How to use Sidecar

Since I started testing Sidecar, my most common use has been as another screen shot of my Mac. When researching and writing on my Mac, I can keep an eye on MacStories Slack and Messages by keeping them close on my iPad. I also used the second reference material screen as PDFs I opened in Preview or to keep track of a recording in Audio Hijack while recording a podcast without having to switch from show notes in Google Docs. These are the uses that I think people will find most useful.

However, a case about other uses has emerged for me. Over the past couple of years, I've found that I use iOS next to my Mac to get tasks done more often. Before, it meant switching between my Mac and iOS devices to run shortcuts that Federico has tailored to the work we do on MacStories and use other apps that aren't available on Mac.

With Sidecar, I can work in a Mac app on my iPad, and when I need to run a shortcut or use another app with iPadOS, I can quickly switch to it and then back to my Mac. The parallel workflows are nowhere near as tough as you'd think, thanks to AirDrop and Universal Clipboard. I can AirDrop files from the Mac or iPad interface to the other platform or just copy links, text and images on one device and paste them into the other using Universal Clipboard.

With those kinds of ties between systems, the distinction between working on a Mac and iPad is starting to disappear very quickly and has convinced me that touch-screen Macs are more likely than ever before. Differences in interaction have a way of turning you back to the reality of which computer you're working with, but I expect over time that Apple will continue to smooth out the rough updates, improve the experience and bring similar tools to the Mac as well. After all, this is just the first iteration of Sidecar.

Erasing the Borders Between Devices

It's hard to look at Sidecar and not feel like you're looking into the future. Across all Apple products, there are signs that new connections are being formed that allow users to get off on one device and pick up on another or move content from one device to another. An example is Universal Clipboard, which allows you to transfer snippets of copied text between Macs and iOS devices, but there are many others. For example, starting with macOS Mojave, users can start capturing images on an iOS device from a Mac. The trend is also evident in technologies such as AirPlay that allow you to transfer media from one device to another and the upcoming HomePod feature that lets you transfer music from an iPhone with a touch.

It has been an evolutionary process, but the integration of Apple's devices with each other is deeper than ever, and the pace seems to be increasing. From developer frameworks such as SwiftUI and Catalyst to OS features like Continuity, AirDrop, AirPlay, HomeKit, Shortcuts, CarPlay, NFC and Siri, the boundaries between everything from Apple Watch to iMac Pro are blurred. There is certainly more work to be done, because when any component fails, something they inevitably do, it breaks the illusion, which is jarring, but the direction Apple is heading is unmistakable and intriguing.

Delivering that promise is still years away, and Sidecar is just one piece of a much larger puzzle, but the promise of an adaptable user interface that works seamlessly across devices is enticing. It also does all the fumbling on the web about Catalyst and the endless debates about whether the Mac or iPad is better for "real work". If Apple can get what it seems to be trying to achieve, differences between hardware and operating system will be less relevant than ever.

In the meantime, I'm going to make the most of Sidecar. It's a feature that, even as a slightly buggy beta, has been a significant improvement in the way I use my Mac and making me optimistic about what's next.

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