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Technology Untangled: App lets you use iPad as an extra PC display

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technology-bourThe use of a second monitor with your PC has several advantages. One of the biggest is the ability to have more area to spread out and work with all of your open applications. Instead of stacking multiple windows on top of each other, you can drag several secondary applications away from the main screen and view many windows at once. The down side is the expense and trouble of connecting an additional monitor and the ability to use it only at your desk.

Today we will look at another way to deploy an extra display by using the portable device you likely carry with you everywhere: your iPad. It can provide you with an instant second monitor whenever you need it, with no wires or cables to restrict it. All that is required is an app downloaded to your iPad and some software for your PC. There is a lot of flexibility of hardware choice with this app. You can use your PC or your Mac computer to extend its display to an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch or Android tablet.

The name of the app is Air Display by Avatron. First, let’s walk through the steps of how to install it, and then we will review how it functions. The software drivers for your computer are free and found at www.avatron.com/apps/air-display. Simply download the appropriate setup file and install. Next, search for Air Display in the app store for your iPad or Android. Unfortunately, this app is not free. It is $9.99, but once paid for and installed on your tablet, the app will work with multiple computers, so you could use your extra monitor both at home and at the office.

Air Display communicates through Wi-Fi, so to extend your screen, both your tablet and computer must be connected to the same network. This allows you to take your extra iPad monitor away from your desk and essentially work on your computer remotely from anywhere within Wi-Fi range. If you are away from your Wi-Fi network, in court or mediation for example, you can still use Air Display by establishing an ad hoc (computer-to-computer) network between your two devices. Straightforward instructions for ad hoc connection are included at the Avatron website.

To establish the link, launch the Air Display app on your iPad, then open the program on your computer. Right click the new icon on your menu bar, and you will see a choice to connect to your iPad. Within a few moments, the extended Windows screen appears on the iPad. The first time I did this, I did a double take when I saw the unusual sight of the Windows logo from my computer desktop now emblazoned on my Apple iPad!

Functions at this point are similar to using any typical monitor in extended screen mode. From the Air Display options menu on the computer you can choose to extend the display not only to the left or the right but also to the top or bottom. These additional placements are not possible with a traditional monitor. As an example, the extended screen could be used to view PDF exhibit scans on your iPad while researching information from those documents on your main screen. You can also choose to duplicate/mirror your desktop view. This method could be useful if you wanted a client or associate to watch what you are doing on your computer without them having to hover over your shoulder.

The display resolution is fair but not great. It is crisp, but the response time and refresh rate are a little slow. It feels sluggish. It reminds me of the interface you get when working remotely with GoToMyPC. As an aside, GoToMyPC now has an app for tablets and smartphones. Perhaps I will need to review that soon.

One nice added feature compared to the typical extended monitor is the ability to perform touch-screen functions on your computer via the iPad. While you do gain some degree of touch-screen navigation, the functionality is somewhat limited compared to the normal iPad. For example, you cannot pinch to shrink a view or spread your fingers to zoom it. Computer mouse and keyboard functions can be mimicked on the touch screen, theoretically allowing you to perform all computer functions via the iPad while away from your computer. I found this to be serviceable but somewhat clumsy.

The biggest functional disappointment for me was when trying to view videos on the external monitor. Most videos would not display when dragged over to the extended display. A few videos would display, but only if they were highly compressed or if the pixel array was postage-stamp size. High-resolution video will not work.

In spite of some shortcomings, I like the idea of being able to use the iPad as an external monitor, and I will mainly use it to keep an eye on background utility applications that otherwise would be hidden behind my main computer window.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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