Macs have long been the go-to choice for creative professionals. Still, even with that legendary legacy it’s easy to see that there are a few relatively common features that haven’t quite found their way into the latest Mac. Many users find a solution by adding various accessories, such as a drawing tablet or secondary display. However, I would argue there is a better choice—the iPad. The iPad is able to fulfill all those roles and more while still being a fully independent device that might be a better tool in select situations, making it worthwhile to keep both a Mac and iPad on hand to suit every need.
How an iPad Is a Perfect Mac Companion
Let’s start with how the iPad can support your Mac. We might as well start with one of the coolest and newest features—Sidecar. This feature allows the Mac to connect, with a wire or wirelessly, to an iPad and use it as a secondary display. Now, this isn’t going to replace a nice 27” or larger monitor (like the iMac) that constantly sits on your desk, but it is perfect for those who don’t have need (or room) for another full-fledged display yet often have the desire for a second one.
It’s super easy to use; simply head up to the top near the AirPlay tools in the Mac’s menu bar and with your iPad unlocked nearby you can just select it and it connects! It works well and even wirelessly there is minimal latency. I see this as an excellent option for those used to working on multiple displays at home or in an office and yet are forced to work on a laptop for travel. It provides a great second display for putting up a reference document or extra images as you work on the main photo.
An added benefit of using the iPad with Sidecar is that the touchscreen remains functional, actually adding touch capabilities to your Mac. If you choose to mirror your display and use the iPad alone, you can browse and use all your pro apps with the touchscreen. Plus, if you opt to pick up an Apple Pencil, you will have a brilliant drawing stylus for working with graphics or retouching images.
With just one feature, we have fulfilled two roles with the iPad: as a second display and as a drawing tablet. And we are just getting started.
The iPad as a Supplementary Device
Even with the most powerful computer, when you are doing intense graphics work you’ll want that device to be focused entirely on the task at hand. That doesn’t mean there isn’t other stuff you might want to have up or be checking up on as you work. An iPad can help serve that purpose by providing all the other functionality you might want to do on your main computer. I’m talking about keeping notes up from a client, monitoring emails, video chatting with remote clients or collaborators, or even just putting on a YouTube video or movie in the background as you sort through images.
One thing that is particular to me but some might also find useful with the current remote work situations is to use select apps to remotely access a secondary computer while you perform most of your work on your Mac. With an iPad Pro equipped with a Magic Keyboard, I can effectively use remote software to log into a Windows computer in the office and keep it up without bogging down my main machine or having to constantly switch back and forth between multiple desktops on my iMac’s single screen.
The iPad as an Independent Tool
Already you can see how the iPad can fill the roles of various accessories, and we have yet to get into how the iPad is a worthwhile device with its own merits. It’s an ultra-portable computing device with outstanding battery life, optional cellular connectivity, and a touchscreen with Apple Pencil support built in. Add on a Magic Keyboard and you essentially have a super-powerful yet compact laptop. Another benefit is that since this is part of Apple’s robust iOS (now iPadOS) ecosystem, you have access to a variety of outstanding applications. You might even find some new tools that you wouldn’t have used otherwise, like a new drawing application for use with the Apple Pencil or a teleprompter for help recording your next video. An iPad has value on its own.
For sketching or a more tactile feeling when jotting down notes, I think the Apple Pencil is better than any type of keyboard and mouse/trackpad combination. It’s easy to understand how the pencil is better for sketches and art, but even for notes I prefer the feeling of a pen in my hand, plus I have the freedom and speed to rearrange and add text exactly where I need if an idea pops into my head later on.
I would also argue that compared to MacBooks (at least pre Apple Silicon and the M1 chip), the iPad was vastly superior when it comes to battery life for certain tasks. General word processing is a great example from my real-world experiences as I could type all day on an iPad while I’d have to plug in a MacBook Pro.
As for travel, well, my 12.9" iPad is much more enjoyable for short trips and everyday carry than my 15" MacBook Pro ever was. I love my MacBook, but the smaller size and enhanced functionality as a consumption device for when I don’t need to work made my iPad among the best purchases of the year. I especially prefer it for trips where I specifically plan to not work, say a weekend away or an international trip that crosses multiple borders. I can get all the basic computing functionality I could want out of the iPad and it means I can leave the bigger and bulkier MacBook at home.
If you don’t even have a MacBook, say you only have an iMac, Mac mini, or Mac Pro, then picking up the iPad as your mobile device is almost a no-brainer.
Seamless Switching between Devices
Now would also be a good time to mention Continuity. Adding an extra device to your kit isn’t the easiest thing as it means making sure your main files and cloud services all can be used seamlessly; otherwise, many extra devices just aren’t worth the hassle or quickly fall out of use. Luckily, Apple has you covered.
I’m going to be honest: Apple has muddied the term Continuity as it basically refers to a ton of different features that allow for seamless movement from one device to another. It also hosts other features known by better names, such Handoff. Anyway, let’s start with Handoff as it is among the most visible and useful.
Handoff works like this: Say you are typing up a document on your iMac, but now you need to hop on the subway to get to a location for a shoot and still want to keep working. Well, just open up your iPad (or MacBook for that matter) and you’ll see the respective app pop up in your dock with a little icon in the corner. Just tap that icon and the entire document in its current state will seemingly magically open up on the current device for seamlessly switching over.
Continuity also helps provide integration of iPad-specific features into Mac applications and documents. I like demonstrating the use of an iPad/iPhone camera to insert a snapshot into a document in progress. It helps for getting notes into an email or digitizing a physical document.
I’d argue that with multiple devices it is well worth a look at a cloud service for your documents. I prefer Apple's own iCloud because it offers excellent integration with iPadOS and macOS, though you can get similar functionality with other providers. Just make sure you are saving your files to the cloud directory on your devices, be it Finder on Mac or the Files app on the iPad, and you should enjoy the ability to open up any document you want whenever you want with the latest changes all synced up.
By using both devices for different uses you can maximize productivity and also improve your own experience. To be honest, there are moments where trying to do something (say move files around) becomes frustrating on the iPad so I have to move to the Mac, and vice versa. Being able to move to the right tool for the right job and then also augment one or the other through features like Sidecar, I haven’t missed a step moving from working in an office every day to working from home. Plus, the iPad and MacBook will trade off being my daily carry depending on each day’s needs when we do start commuting again.
Seriously, if you are trying to decide whether a Mac or iPad is worth it since you already own the other, I can tell you that it is well worth it to have both. Especially if you think you might use a feature like Sidecar. It’s essentially getting a second display/drawing tablet for your computer that can be so much more than that.
Are you already a Mac and iPad user? Or do you still prefer sticking to one or the other? Let us know in the Comments section, below!