by James A. Martin

Air Display Turns Your iPad, iPhone into a PC Monitor—Sometimes

Feb 29, 20123 mins

Avatron Software’s $10 Air Display app magically transforms an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad into an external monitor for your Mac or PC. But blogger James A. Martin found the app worked only sporadically, at best.

When I leave my office, I often take my MacBook Air with me. And I always feel as if I’m working with one hand tied behind my back, because I miss my office’s multiple-monitor setup. So when I learned of Avatron Software’s Air Display application for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad ($10; current version: 1.5.1), I had to try it.

Air Display’s purpose is to wirelessly (and magically) transform an iOS device into an extra monitor for a PC or Mac. Initial set up on my home office network was super fast and simple: I downloaded and installed Air Display on my iPad 2 and Avatron’s companion software on my MacBook Air, then followed a few quick steps to link them. The linking happens when the two devices are on the same Wi-Fi network or when they’re connected via an ad-hoc, computer-to-computer network (more on that later).

I configured the Air Display app to turn my iPad into an extension of my MacBook Air’s desktop, though you can also opt to mirror the desktop screen on the iOS device. And because the extra screen is an iPad, I could use either the tablet’s touch input or my MacBook Air’s trackpad. I could also summons a special Air Display keyboard, too (see the screen shot).

Air Display screen shot

Three Monitors at Once

Not to sound hopelessly geeky, but I was thrilled. How cool is it to get a portable, extra monitor for my MacBook Air for only $10? In fact, when I’m at home, I can have a total of three monitors running from my MacBook Air—the laptop’s own screen, an external Dell monitor connected to the Air and Air Display running on my iPad 2.

It seemed too good to be true. As it turned out, it was.

I took my MacBook Air and iPad on the road, stopping first at a café with a public Wi-Fi network in San Francisco and later, a San Jose hotel room with a guest Wi-Fi network. Air Display didn’t repeat its cool trick in either location. I tried turning the Air Display app off on my MacBook Air, then turning it back on. I tried typing the iPad 2’s IP address (which the Air Display iPad app provides) into the Air Display software on my Mac, as Avatron Software suggests. I tried connecting via an ad-hoc network. In other words, I tried everything I could think of to find a solution. All efforts met with the same result: Nada.

I sent an email to Air Display’s online support team, explaining my situation. I received the following response:

“Unfortunately there isn’t much that can be done on (public) networks. Air Display needs certain network settings opened in order to connect, and public networks often have these disabled for security reasons…Another problem is that the responsiveness of the app is almost entirely based on the speed and stability of your wireless network. These public networks are often very slow when you are able to connect to them.”

Works at Home, Not Always on the Road

Air Display worked fabulously in my home office, where it’s of minor importance. In locations where I would truly appreciate it—a hotel room or a café—it has thus far been useless. And that’s a shame.

Ultimately, if you could benefit from an extra monitor for your desktop or laptop and primarily plan to use it on a home office network, Air Display is absolutely worth $10. Otherwise, save your money.