When my my workday is over and my kids go to bed I try to get a little exercise and then sit down at the kitchen table and start working on my laptop. Most of the time I'm either entering data or programming. Both of these tasks are cumbersome because I need to use a lot of different applications simultaneously. For example, while entering data I usually toggle between:
- A browser window open to www.eyedock.com
- A browser tab open to EyeDock's mySQL database admin page
- A browser tab or a PDF reader open to the data that I'm referring to
- An FTP client
- An image editor
- A file manager
When programming I'm usually using:
- Whichever app I'm using to write my code (Flash, Xcode, or Textmate)
- An image editor
- A browser to Google solutions to all the problems I run into
- The programming language documentation
- And, sometimes, another program to build my user interface (Interface builder)
I spend WAY too much time switching between tabs and windows. In addition, all the typing is starting to cause me some wrist and hand pain: I think the biggest problem is all the awkward motions on the laptop track pad trying to open, close, and shift windows, files, and palettes around.
I've started thinking I'd be much better off with a large second monitor. The problem is I don't really have an office area in my house. I do 95% of my work on the kitchen table, and about 5% in coffee shops. We're trying to buy a bigger house, so maybe I will have an office area at some point, but right now the priority is to give the kids their own rooms. And it's hard to justify buying a large second monitor when there's the uncertainty of how much we'll be spending on our mortgage in the near future.
I came across a very workable alternative after reading a blog post about an iPad app called DisplayPad. This app lets you use your iPad as an external monitor. All you have to do is download the app onto your iPad and put a free program on your Mac (downloaded from their website). In your Mac's System Preferences -> Displays you can tell the computer where the iPad is positioned in relation to you computer so you can easily move your cursor between them.
It may not seem like a 9.7" iPad screen would make that much difference, but it does. It actually increases my usable desktop area by about 50% (with a 15" MacBook Pro), which is significant.
It's not a perfect solution, though. The resolution isn't quite as sharp as my laptop monitor, and dragging windows or images around isn't very smooth. However, when I reserve my primary tasks for the main computer and delegate the iPad screen as a place to hold more static documents it works in a very satisfactory way.
I spent a big chunk of the day yesterday with my dual monitor system, and I found my workflow to be much smoother and efficient. Plus I only had to spend $2.99, and my second display is small enough that I could even take it with me to a coffee shop or on a trip if I needed to. It's a cheap solution . . . if you happen to have an iPad.