How to turn your phone or tablet into a monitor

If you’re desperate for extra screen real estate on your PC or Mac you can now extend your desktop onto a tablet or even mobile phone. This is made possible by the iDisplay app from Shape Services. It was first introduced as an iOS app which turned an iPad or iPhone into a secondary monitor. But the app is now also available for Android-based devices (requiring Android 2.1 at least).

The app works with Intel-based Mac Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later or Windows XP 32-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7. Get started by installing the two required components. Download them from here. At the time of writing the app was US$4.99.

Once activated on the Android device the computer’s name will show up. Select it and allow the application to run on the PC. Through a Wi-Fi connection the device will then display the PC’s desktop. It took three seconds for an Android device to turn into a second display. Basic settings can be accessed through the PC’s control panel. Dragging different windows to and from each display was easy while right-clicking on a Windows title bar brought up “Move to iDisplay” – very handy. Tap and hold to simulate a right-click.

Theoretically you can duplicate the displays – that is the same display on both monitor and mobile device – but we were unable to do this with our setup (MSI gaming notebook running Windows 7 with a modified ViewSonic G Tablet). You can also hook up the Android device as a third display if you already have a secondary monitor. We hooked up the G Tablet as a secondary device and then hooked up the monitor– this caused iDisplay to disconnect the tablet. This was tried again vice versa without success. An attempt with dual Android tablets the Notion Adam Ink and gTablet produced a “Connection was not allowed” error.  

On the G Tablet the transition from landscape portrait took one second. Compared to the main monitor the tablet display suffered from a slight latency issue of about a quarter of a second when I scrolled down a page and the frame rate was also a tad sluggish. It handled OpenOffice documents well and navigation and editing was possible from the tablet. We found that it worked perfectly having the extra display for an RSS reader or other programs like IM and/or Gmail.

If you have tablet syndrome where you intuitively touch a normal monitor before you realise it’s not a touchscreen then this setup is great and also ideal if you are on the road or are used to a second monitor or a larger display in your usual work environment. For some a limited display space can feel like working with half a brain.