iPad in Desktop Mode

What and why?

As a university educator, preparing for classes is part of the day-to-day job. This is usually composed of reviewing the class plan, the lecture topic details, corresponding slides (content, notes), and additional resources (mainly photos, web links, and PDF documents).

As the iPad has become my main computing device, I have experimented with several setups for optimal results (including the setup detailed in the post on using a mouse). My current setup, however, involves using the iPad in what I would call, “Desktop Mode.”

Apps Used: Keynote and DevonThink

This is a comfortable setup that provides me with a good view of the iPad screen projected on a large high resolution monitor and the course textbook/material. In addition, it gives me easy access to my wireless keyboard and mouse.

The larger monitor enables me to view small font size text and to more easily view multiple windows. The keyboard enables faster and more accurate typing, while maintaining full viewable screen on the iPad (as opposed to using the on-screen keyboard), and the mouse is an essential element when connecting the iPad to an external monitor. Another bonus of this setup is that the iPad would be charging while connected.


For this setup to work best, one would need to have some essential accessories and arrange for some specific iPad settings. The needed accessories are:

  • Large monitor with high resolution
    • The one used here is an HP monitor which allows for two interchangeable cable inputs. With a press of a button on the monitor, I could switch between viewing the iPad screen and viewing my office windows PC.
  • Bluetooth keyboard. The one used here is Kanex Foldable Mini Keyboard. For this setup, a separate bluetooth keyboard is better than one that attaches to the iPad (like Apple’s Magic Keyboard).
  • Bluetooth or wireless mouse.
  • USB-C hub, with the following minimum inputs:
    • HDMI slot (connecting to the monitor)
      • If the monitor doesn’t support HDMI input (as the one here), you would need an additional accessory; a VGA-to-HDMI adapter.
      • Naturally, you would also need a corresponding cable.
    • USB-C charging slot (to charge the iPad, as the use of an external monitor and other accessories drains the battery)
    • USB slot (for the USB connector of the wireless mouse and for the use of a flash/thumb drive)
  • High voltage USB-C charger
  • Suitable table (the one here is my side PC table, leaving the main office table for paper work, filing, etc.)

For best use, you need to arrange iPad settings, when connected to the monitor, as follows:

  • Reduce brightness (an iPad screen too bright would distract you from looking at the external monitor)
  • Enable Accessibility feature for the mouse (Settings -> Accessibility -> Touch -> Assistive Touch -> [Turn On])

When I was starting to use this setup, and for each time I connect the monitor, I had had to manually reduce the brightness then dig to the assistive touch menu to enable mouse support. However, I now use a Shortcut that reduces the brightness and enables assistive touch for mouse (calling it, “Desktop on”) and another shortcut to bring brightness back to normal and to disable assistive touch (calling it, “Desktop off”)

(Desktop On shortcut)

(Desktop Off shortcut)

Tips and issues

  • The iPad needs to be close by in a position facing you but at a lower angle. This is useful for:
    • The times when you would need Face ID (iPad Pro)
    • Touching the screen, mainly for pinch-to-zoom
    • Jotting handwritten notes
  • It would be useful to learn some basic keyboard shortcut to minimize the need to touch the screen. For example:
    • CMD + H: To go to the homescreen (You could also use the dedicated key on your keyboard if it has one)
    • CMD + OPT + D: To show or hide the dock
    • CMD + N: New message/note/etc (depending on the app being used)

This setup is not perfect. As it seems to be the case with iPadOS 13, there are a number of bugs still present at the time of writing this post (29/Feb/2020). The main ones are:

  • CMD + Tab (for switching between apps): Does not work most of the time.
  • Apple Pencil double tap for eraser: Does not work sometimes.
  • Mouse cursor on the screen: Moves too slowly sometimes


“What’s a Computer?” is a promotional slogan Apple has been using for the iPad. In a way, it challenges the common perception that a computer is your desktop or laptop computer and that a tablet can’t be one.

For a couple of years now, and since the launch of the original iPad Pro, Apple has been trying to position the iPad as a viable (mobile) computer. With multi-tasking abilities, the Files app, Drag-and-Drop, the Apple Pencil, and other features, the iPad is turning into a capable computer. For me, it is indeed performing about 85% of my computational needs, especially when I’m on the go.

With the mouse support and external monitor support, the iPad could now resemble a traditional desktop PC for the times that you need it to be. This significantly makes it more versatile and adaptable to your needs; a handheld tablet, a laptop-like computer, a digital note-taking machine, and now even a desktop-like computer.

It might not work for everyone or for every situation (yet), but its ability to do the vast majority of your needed tasks, combined with its flexibility, mobility, and empowering abilities, it could already be your all-in-one powerful and fun-to-use computer!