One way to use an iPad as a display for a headless Mac

“Decades ago, I used to set up ‘headless’ servers. These were computers that you stuck in a server room and accessed remotely,” Glenn Fleishman writes for Macworld. “While terminal-based remote access for Unix systems was routine, the same approach with GUI-based operating systems, like what was then System 7, was unusual. We had to use a monitor to install Timbuktu Pro, and sometimes even attach a dummy monitor cable afterwards so the Mac ‘thought’ it had a display.”

“Remote-desktop access later became an absolutely routine part of operating systems, and macOS has offered it as a built-in service for many, many years,” Fleishman writes. “Macworld reader Peter asks if there’s a way to examine a Mac mini without a monitor attached, if all he has is an iPad, a keyboard, and a mouse. There is, but you have to set it up with a monitor attached first, as Apple doesn’t enable remote access by default.”

“Technically, Apple is using a variant of the Virtual Network Computing (VNC) standard for its screen sharing, tying into the macOS user authentication system,” Fleishman writes. “iOS doesn’t support this, but you can enable a setting that works with third-party apps for remote control.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Do you use a VNC app for iOS? If so which one?

Hands on with Air Display 3: Using iPad as second monitor over USB – February 26, 2015
How to access your Mac remotely from your iPhone or iPad – June 7, 2016
Screen sharing from the Messages app: a handy yet severely under-used feature – February 11, 2016
Alternatives to LogMeIn for remotely accessing computers – February 7, 2014


  1. Why bother?! Who uses those old fashioned computer thingies any more? All of our computing needs can be satisfied with an iPhone! And if you don’t agree you’re just a boring old fart who needs to either drag himself into the 21st century or die off to get out of the way of progress.

    1. You forgot the sarcasm tag. Anyone at Apple who believes that all computing can be replaced with an iPhone deserves a one way ticket to the center of the great Pacific Ocean plastic garbage patch.

      Why the tie in to garbage? Because unlike Macs that once were designed to be upgraded and maintained for years, an iPhone is designed to last 3 years or so, and Apple tries to convince you to buy a new one every year. Pure waste.

  2. What Apple really needs to do is offer a way to _wire_ an iPad to a Mac for a cost effective Wacom-like input device.

    Adding an iPad to a Mac to be used only as an accessory display might have some limited uses but it’s clear Apple didn’t bother to try to make it a built in capability. Therefore the hoops you have to jump through aren’t worth it. You can get bigger better monitors than an iPad that are plug and play, for not many $ more.

    Back in the good old days, Apple made these: The last Mac display Apple made was a 2010 model (LED Cinema Display A1316), which was given a Thunderbolt connector in 2011 (model A1407), which by 2014 was looking obsolete since 4K was everywhere. Apple let the Thunderbolt Display die without a word in 2016. Apple made absolutely zero effort even trying to make 21.5″ and 27″ displays to match the current iMacs. The engineering effort there would have been summer intern level stuff and if priced correctly Apple would have sold them like hotcakes.

    It’s inexcusable how poorly Apple thought about using the iPad with the Mac together, let alone plugging an iPad directly into legacy monitors and projectors. Don’t forget the stand for the iPad, and the longest most expensive Lightning cable you can buy. Then there is the asinine $50 Lightning-to-HDMI dongle. Does Apple live in the real world? Well it’s good to know that Apple sells bicycle helmets that will sync with your iPad, that’s what Apple wants to put in its stores these days.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.