iPad as independent second screen

Over a year and a generation since Apple mainstreamed the tablet with iPad and many are still not certain there's a place in their life for a device that's in between the smartphone and the laptop. And that's very much how I felt. Sure I used my iPad a lot when I first got it, but then iPhone 4 came around and I went back to using that more. Then the new MacBook Air took over a lot of what I'd been using my iPad for, and I started to wonder -- is it really necessary? iPad 2 brought me back for a time but it was still hard to see exactly where the bigger, keyboard-less screen fit into my life.

Then I realized my problem. I'd been trying to use the iPad instead of my iPhone or MacBook, and there were seldom times when it was more convenient than the former or more powerful than the latter. But then I notice something. Slowly, step by step, little by little, I was starting to use my iPad in addition to my MacBook.

There would be a video a wanted to watch, an article I wanted to read, a web site I wanted to browse, and instead of bringing it up on my MacBook and interrupting whatever else I was doing, instead of bring it up on my iPhone and compromising with the small screen, I grabbed my iPad. Even when I plug my MacBook into a cinema display, I often fill both screens with web dev tools or have Photoshop and Illustrator/InDesign hogging a lot of screen real estate. I could use Spaces, but more and more I'm just grabbing my iPad.

Recently John Siracusa highlighted an article by TechInch that cast the iPad as the microwave to the PC's traditional oven, and in my case that feels apt. For quick, simple tasks, it's easier and faster.

Zach Epstein recently wrote, on BGR that his favorite tablet was the BlackBerry Playbook and did a great job listing the reasons why. He also challenged me to reconsider why I liked and used the iPad 2.

I realized it while working on way on my MacBook, with Netflix playing next to me on my iPad, or some articles queued up in Instapaper, or some feeds ready in Reeder, or a game I want to sneak a few minutes on while waiting for a render or a server. Sometimes even with my email or a web site I'm developing, so I don't have to switch back and forth while I'm working.

It's a second screen, but an independent one, and that's the perfect place for it in my life, at least for me, for right now.

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPad as independent second screen


I find myself doing the same thing when I'm on my computer. I will be reading an article while watching netflix on my iPad. Great article Rene love your work.

Ditto for flipboard combined with fulltext google reader account, folks ain't know what they missing. Splastop useful also to keep pc tasks in check.

iPhone is my main communications device, iMac is my main media storage hub (movies, music,) MacBook pro is my main work machine(pages, documents, projects) iPod touch is my main music player. And the iPad is my main travel device that I use in place for entertainment. I bring it to work every day. Upload movies, music and games. Great for casual web browsing and my main email device.

What App do you use to make your iPad a second screen? Is it just for a Mac? If so, what App do you recommend to use your iPad as a second screen for a Windows XP and 7 desktop?

Good for you Rene. You've found that balance and fit the iPad in there. I'm still searching for it in my household. My Xenon PC houses all my Adobe creative suite for work purposes. The iMac 27" is strictly family use like for the kids' school work and internet surfing. The iPhone and Android phones my wife and I have fill the communications needs. Gaming? PS3 and Wii fit the bill. Our iPad, well it sorta gets used and it doesn't. She is taking it on a trip next week for 5 days and that will be the most use it has seen in weeks. We would like to read on it but the screen is less than ideal for that IMHO. We can't put down our Kindle 3rd gens long enough to read on the ipad.

To clarify my comment on the screen. It's just too reflective and glossy making reading a chore. Hurts my eyes under the wrong light and starts to weigh my wrists down after a while. No such problems with the Kindle's.

I'm with ya a bit on the reading though i still use it for that. A screen like the iphone 4 would go a long way though. The ipad shines for multimedia IMO.

"So now I might be working on way on my MacBook, Netflix playing next to me on my iPad"
How about a little less multitasking and a little more mindfulness. Seems like this is an exercise in plugging the silence.

My iPhone 4 is my communication and portable gaming device, my iMac is my GarageBand and media hub for my 2 Apple TVs and my iPad is really a little bit of everything else. Web surfing, little bit of gaming and reading in bed. I love GarageBand on the iPad and I use it for a little bit with Pages and Numbers for quicker things to type out or charting on the go. I also let me 4 year old play educational games on it. It's really a laptop replacement for me.

I have removed a great deal of reference papers from my desk and logged them now on the app Notebooks. This holds pdf of sheets I would normally refer to while writing up quotes and proposals. Now, it's all with me where ever I go. The iPad is invaluable as a second screen.

"How will I work my iPad 2 in with my MacBook and iPhone 4...?" That is a "problem" that millions upon millions of people would KILL to have. If that's what you're thinking about, you are a-ok. lol
I mean no disrespect, as I am equally as guilty of this. "When I get my MacBook Air, I'll have to get a ThunderBolt device since I'm losing my eSATA and FW800 interface options." yea...
Sometimes it helps alleviate these dreadful concerns that I described above by taking a step back and considering the bigger picture...and I don't mean a Cinema Display either. :-P