Luna Display Turns an iPad into a Responsive Mac Screen

(Julio Ojeda-Zapata) #1

Originally published at:

Astro HQ’s Luna Display dongle for the Mac turns an iPad into a secondary monitor via Lightning or Wi-Fi. Others have pulled off such an iPad-as-Mac-screen maneuver using software, but Luna’s hardware approach taps into the Mac’s graphics acceleration to improve performance.

(Chris Pepper) #2

This article reminded me to update and try Duet on my original iPad Pro 12.9. It failed to connect, so I tried my iPad mini 4 – same failure. So I rebooted my MacBook Pro and it still failed. I reinstalled Duet, and got into a cycle where it kept telling me I needed to authorize (already done), then reboot to complete installation. I only got out by uninstalling on the Mac.

Deleted from iPads too.

(Lynn Rybarczyk) #3

After reading your article, I connected my 2017 iPad Pro via a Lighting Cable to my 2013 MacBook Pro then on the iPad launched Duet and it worked well. No issues.

(SteveLinNYC) #4

For $80 on sale, you can pick up a very basic 1080p display from the likes of Asus and use it as a dedicated second monitor for your Mac. Add a MiniDisplayport or USB C to HDMI cable and you’re still in the same ballpark as using Luna with its dongle and software. Let’s face it though - a cheap monitor is a cheap monitor. You won’t get as many pixels as with a 6th gen iPad and the screen won’t be nearly as bright, but the physical size of a 23” display is far more useful and the resolution is adequate for basic text. I’ve used AirPad and it works quite well, but there is no getting away from the small screen size.

With a full size 1080p display, I can keep iCal and Apple Mail open in split screen, so I never lose track of my appointments and my inbox while doing other things. Yes, I could keep both open on my iPhone and my iPad, but with a second monitor, there’s no interruption in my workflow. The second monitor is also the repository for Apple News, iTunes, and Preview, while Apple Photos, Affinity Photo, Safari and Word remain on my 21.5” iMac’s Retina display. Just because you already own an $800 iPad doesn’t mean you need to spend another $80 to use it as a second display. It’s well worth spending your money on a cheap, or not-do-cheap, dedicated second monitor.

(B. Jefferson Le Blanc) #5

OK. If you don’t have an iPad, you could get a really good second monitor for the price of the iPad. If you’re using a Mac laptop, then an iPad as a second monitor may not be a bad idea. The size differential is likely to be slight. And the ability to do touchscreen operations on your Mac may be irresistible. Of course, this is a jerry-riged setup. A truly touch-screen Mac would be a better option. But this may do while you’re waiting for Apple to get with the program. With iPhone sales finally topping out (maybe), perhaps Apple can spend more energy on Mac development. We can hope, and dream. Tim Cooke apparently is a good manager, but he isn’t a visionary.

(Adam Engst) #6

To be clear, though, it was Steve Jobs who first criticized the concept of a touch-screen Mac. And there’s no vision necessary to do it now, since Google and Microsoft have both already done it.

What I find interesting, when I use the iPad Pro and then switch back to the MacBook Air, is that there are only certain things that my hands “want” to do by touching the screen.

(Simon) #7

That’s an interesting comment, Adam. What gestures are those?

I always thought I’d only find scrolling with my fingers on screen to be of practical use if my MBP has a touchscreen. I realized later though, that that would require me to lift a hand from the KB where they rest almost 100% of the time. Now if I’m only reading a long block of text that might still be practical, but if I’m actually editing a document or doing anything else that requires KB or trackpad, chances are I’d be losing time by scrolling on screen with my fingers because of the constant need to switch where my hands are (not to mention the added strain). And that means I’d probably stop doing even that. I simply cannot think of any truly practical benefit my workflow would have from a touchscreen MBP. I believe Steve was thinking along those exact same lines when he concluded that it just doesn’t make sense on a Mac (I guess he also though the iPad where you should go to do your reading).

Incidentally, this is similar to the criticism the TouchBar has been facing. People editing documents on their MBPs are very likely unwilling to have to move their hands away from that convenient position where you can type and also use the trackpad. It’s just not economical to have to reposition your hands all the time. And of course, in the case of the TouchBar, constantly move view from screen to below and back.

(Adam Engst) #8

The big thing I remember from the last time I did this (a while ago) was dialogs. I really wanted to tap OK or Cancel with my fingers rather than the mouse.

(Diane D) #9

Yes! I always want to touch the screen too after using my iPad, but it’s more of a tap that I try to do than anything else.

I’m a keyboard person too, so it really baffles me that I try this.


(Simon) #10

Indeed. Since my hands are usually on the KB, I like to be able to get rid of dialogs with just return or esc. Some dialogs also support first-letter or special combos like cmd-d for ~/Desktop in open/save.

So what really gets my blood boiling is dialogs that force me to mouse. I wouldn’t mind touch instead of mouse, but to me the true fix lies in making sure there’s a (non-kludgy) KB method for every dialog.

(B. Jefferson Le Blanc) #11

That’s the real issue, I suppose. What do you need a touchscreen for? One has to acquire the habit, I imagine. There would be little use for a touchscreen using a word processor, for instance. But it would be nice to have the option.

As for Steve Jobs criticism of a touchscreen Mac, well, he’s long gone now. And you’re right, it wouldn’t be a question of vision to make one now. Steve Jobs mocked big smart phones, too, yet all current iPhones are large now. I suppose you can still buy smaller iPhones, but you would have to take a hit in power and features.

Eventually, competitive pressure may move Apple to a touchscreen Mac. The Microsoft Surface Studio is now in it’s second iteration, though it’s still underpowered compare to an iMac Pro, though they are priced about the same. We shall see. As the saying goes, never say never.

(Richard Fairbanks) #12

Very interesting.
I’ve tried Duet Display, and it just isn’t as responsive as I would like.
My interest in the Luna Display is to use it, only as needed, as the only monitor for a Mac mini server. Being able to unplug the iPad [Pro] from my Ethernet and plug it in to my Mac mini to check AppleScripts and shell scripts running in the background, as well as general app work, and then just unplug it when done, would be a very efficient use of the iPad!
Any thoughts on such a use would be much appreciated! TIA!

(Julio Ojeda-Zapata) #13

Here’s a quick update to my article.

I’ve continued to actively use Luna Display — mostly the the DisplayPort one since my Macs are pre-USB-C, but also the USB-C dongle a bit with a loaner MacBook Air.

What I like a lot

Using my iPad Pro as a Mac reference monitor (a smaller Mac screen upon which to monitor social media, stash toolbars, manage e-mail and the like) still seems great to me, and a valid reason to consider investing in one of these dongles.

Two Mac screens are always better than one, and the Luna is a great way to pull this off if you don’t have a traditional second display. The Luna is reliable and responsive in this regard, and still better in my experience than software-only approaches such as Duet Display.

What I like less

Since writing my article, I set up an older Mac mini as a TV-room server and tried using the Luna in this context.

The mini is hooked up to my TV, meaning I can use it as a Mac display. However, a Luna plugged into the mini means manipulating macOS via my 2018 iPad Pro, which is a more elegant approach than awkwardly juggling a Mac keyboard and mouse on the couch. My Pencil 2 enhances the experience even further, making macOS manipulation very precise. It’s great.

However, I decided after several weeks of this that it’s a lot more software-efficient and much less fiddly (albeit with more lag) to just remote in with another Mac or with my iPad using Google Chrome Remote Desktop (or a similar app like Screens). In other words, a Luna is not necessarily going to rock your world in this context. For what I’m doing, a bit of performance lag isn’t an issue, and I don’t have to pay a dime (GCRD is free). On the other hand, if you’re seeking the best possible Mac performance on your iPad with this kind of setup, a Luna might be worth it.