Controlling Your Computer from an iPad

Although there are many iPad apps that you might use in a classroom, there are probably just as many—if not many more—Mac or PC applications that facilitate your work as an instructor. Many modern classrooms are set up to project the teacher’s Mac or PC screen for the benefit of a class. Projection options include large flat screen monitors, projectors, and touchscreen display boards (such as Smart Board).

As discussed in my previous blog, there are ways in which you can take advantage of the connection between your computer and a large classroom display device to project your iPad’s screen wirelessly for the benefit of the class. This is achieved by using 3rd party software and Apple’s AirPlay technology to show the screen of your iPad (or other iOS device) on your computer screen. When your iPad becomes visible on your computer screen, it simultaneously becomes visible on the large display device that is viewed by your students.

What I am going to discuss today is the reverse of this situation: showing your Mac or PC screen on your iPad.

Why Would I Want to Show My Computer Screen on My iPad?

When you mirror your iPad’s screen to your computer screen, your computer screen servers as a secondary display for the iPad. Although you can see your iPad’s screen on your computer screen, you cannot directly interact with your iPad apps from the computer itself. Mouse clicks and typing from the computer keyboard will have no effect on the software that is running on your iPad.

The situation is different, however, when you mirror your computer’s screen to your iPad. When your computer’s screen is mirrored to your iPad, you can interact with your computer applications by tapping on your iPad. In other words, your iPad becomes a wireless touchscreen for your computer.

Imagine, for example, that you are teaching class piano. You have a music application running on your computer, and your computer is connected to a large display for the benefit of your class. Under normal circumstances, you, as the teacher, have to stay near your computer in order to have access to your computer mouse and keyboard. If a student in the back of the room is having trouble, you cannot simultaneously walk over to the student and maintain active control over the program that is running on your computer.

If, however, you have also mirrored your computer screen to your iPad, you can control your computer application from your iPad from anywhere in the room. This means that you can carry your iPad with you to the back of the room to assist the student who needs your help. From the back of the room, you can continue to manipulate the computer software that is viewed by the entire class.

Air Display

Avatron makes a remarkably simple and easy-to-use program called Air Display. The program comes in two parts:

  1. a $9.99 app that runs on your iPad (or other iOS device)
  2. a free program that runs on your Mac or PC (available from the Avatron website)

To use Air Display, it is necessary to have both your computer and your iPad on the same network. The iPad, of course, will connect to the network wirelessly. The Mac or PC can be connected either wirelessly or by Ethernet. In a home studio situation, this is generally accomplished with ease.

In some academic environments, wired and wireless networks have been configured separately and don’t directly communicate with each other. In such situations, you’ll need to do one of the following:

  1. connect your computer to the wi-fi network instead of the wired network
  2. set up an ad hoc wireless network on your computer and connect your iPad to that
  3. get help from your school’s IT department

Installation of the Mac/PC software is quite simple. When things are configured according to the instructions, all you have to do is:

  1. run Air Display on your Mac or PC                                                                                                               NOTE: You can set up Air Display to run automatically in the background whenever you turn your computer on. In other words, you can Set it and forget it!
  2. launch the Air Display app on your iPad

With proper configuration, the launching of Air Display on the iPad immediately results in your computer screen being mirrored to your iPad. At that point, you can manipulate every aspect of your computer from the touchscreen of the iPad.

A Caveat or Two

It is important to keep in mind that when you first set up Air Display, you need to use your computer’s display control panel or preference pane to configure the iPad display as either a secondary display or a mirrored display. In most cases, you should select the mirrored option.

When used in landscape orientation, the iPad screen has pixel dimensions of 1024 x 768. That is the desired resolution to which your computer screen will be switched whenever Air Display is mirroring your computer screen to the iPad. It is a good idea to lock your iPad’s screen orientation to landscape. If you accidentally rotate your iPad to portrait orientation, your computer screen will attempt to reorient itself to 768 x 1024. The result will either look bad or will otherwise be unusable.

I hasten to point out that most Mac and PC programs were not designed with a small touchscreen interface in mind. Therefore, you may find that menus and other control items that are easy to click with a mouse may not be so easy to manipulate with your finger. However, a stylus that is made for the iPad will work pretty well in this regard.

Fortunately, if you need to enter text, you can always bring up the iPad’s on-screen keyboard for typing.

One Final Tip

In a keyboard class, it is common for each student station to be wired into an audio control system that is manipulated by the teacher at the front of the room. The audio control system enables the teacher to create many different audio scenarios.

Imagine, for a moment, that you have asked the students in your class to work independently on their repertoire. The audio control system will enable you to communicate privately with any one student in the class while everyone else works silently and independently.

When you work individually with a single student from the teacher’s station, you can wirelessly (and privately) mirror your computer display to an iPad located at the student’s station. While you talk to your student and manipulate your computer software from the teacher’s station, your student will be able to view your screen simultaneously.


George Litterst is a nationally known music educator, clinician, author, performer, and music software developer. A classically trained pianist, he is co-author of the intelligent accompaniment software program, Home Concert Xtreme, the electronic music blackboard program, Classroom Maestroand the long distance teaching and performing software, Internet MIDI.