I've spent a lot of time using Apple's newest version of its desktop operating system, macOS Catalina, since it was announced at Apple's developer conference a few weeks ago. There are a lot of cool features coming to your Mac this fall, some of which are long overdue like the end of iTunes in favor of dedicated Music, TV, and Podcast apps. Others are more subtle like changes to the Reminders, Notes, and Mail apps. 

Then there's Sidecar, the most Apple-thing they've made for the Mac in a long time. Why? It just works. I don't know how, but it does.

If you aren't familiar with Sidecar, it's a feature that allows you to use your iPad as an extended screen either via USB-C, or over WiFi, and also lets you use your Apple Pencil as an input device, which can be great for apps like Adobe Illustrator, or other photo and graphics apps. Think about it as an $800 super-powered Wacom tablet.

The list of features that involve Apple taking something remarkably complicated, and making it simple for users to the point that it "just works," is long and includes things like using your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac, TouchID, and Handoff. I don't know what else to say except that with Sidecar, it's clear that Apple is just showing off.

On almost every level, this feature is kind of ridiculous in terms of how simple it is to use, if you think about it. That's not to say it doesn't serve any practical purpose. It does, and we'll get to that. But I'm not entirely sure Apple designed Sidecar because it would be practical. I think they did it just because they can. 

That said, here are three things you could actually use Sidecar for that are really useful:

Extended Screen

The most obvious is that you could use it as an extended screen. Depending on the size of your iPad you're not going to get a lot of extra real estate, but if you're using a laptop, even a 10.7 inch or 11 inch iPad Pro would give you enough screen to stash your email or Slack. Of course, you could basically do that already by simply opening Slack, or your email, on your iPad.

On the other hand, you can use it with an app like Final Cut Pro to stash tools like the viewer or color correction, especially if you have limited space on a smaller MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. Most people who do video editing or graphic design on laptop probably already have a larger monitor that they use, but being able to pull your iPad out of your bag and set it up for a quick and easy second display is something that could be super useful.

Fine-tuned Photo Editing

If you've used a Wacom tablet in the past for dodge and burn edits on your digital photos, Sidecar lets you use your iPad to do fine-tuned editing in a variety of different software. As long as the software supports tablet actions, the developer doesn't have to do anything else to enable Sidecar support. That means that you can draw in Illustrator or rotoscope in After Effects while taking advantage of the touch sensitivity of the Apple Pencil.

Practicing Presentations

Have a big presentation and want to be able to see both how it looks in presenter view on your Mac, while also viewing the way it will look on the big screen? Well, the screen won't exactly be "big," but you'll be able to preview your Keynote or PowerPoint presentation using your iPad. No more digging behind the TV in your hotel room trying to plug in an HDMI cable or AppleTV. Just grab your iPad and you're all set.

Note: It's Only Available on Newer Macs

Despite all of the great ways to use Sidecar, if you're not running a relatively new Mac, you're probably out of luck. Apple hasn't officially announced which devices will be compatible, but several online reports seem to indicate that it'll be limited to the 27-inch iMac (Late 2015 or newer), MacBook Pro (2016 or newer), 12-inch MacBook (early 2016 or newer), iMac Pro, MacBook Air (2018), Mac mini (2018), Mac Pro (2019).

You should know that Sidecar isn't macOS on your iPad, if that's what you're hoping for. For the most part, the touch control is disabled and your iPad simply becomes another display unless you're using the Apple Pencil. Still, it's another example of one of those features that Apple does so well, mostly because it just works. 

Published on: Jun 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.