7 iOS Apps to Power Up Your Mac Experience

Your iPad or iPhone can be a powerful Mac accessory with these apps. While some people try and convince you to replace your Mac with an iPad, that’s not necessarily possible or desirable for some. Instead, these apps allow your iOS devices to compliment your Mac, letting them work together.

Duet Display ($15.99)

What it Does: Turns your iPad or iPhone into a second display for your Mac.

Apps that try and turn the iPad into a second display date back to the device’s earliest days. Most of them used Wi-Fi and were terribly laggy. Duet Display uses USB for the connection which is a huge improvement. The fact ex-Apple engineers are behind the app didn’t hurt either.


The app is easy to set up. After buying the app for iOS, you install a free companion app on your Mac. Now launch the app, attach your iPad via USB and launch the Duet Display iOS app. Your iPad will now show up as another monitor, though you may want to adjust the resolution and position based on your comfort and set up.

The best thing about Duet Display is that it’s invisible, aside from the occasional crash. Those are fairly rare: usually triggered when you try and switch in and out of the app on your iPad. Also, if you’re stuck with a Windows laptop at work, you can download a client for that OS as well.

Astropad ($29.99 iPad, Free on iPhone)

What it Does: Turns your iPad into a graphics tablet.

Cintiqs are expensive. Astropad can help casual artists or those who simply don’t have the cash to invest in an expensive drawing tablet. Like Duet Display, you need apps on both sides of the equation to make to make Astropad work — download the companion app here.


You can connect your iOS device via USB, or just use Wi-Fi. On your Mac, you’ll see marching ants indicating the screen real estate your iOS device now represents. Now you can draw using your finger, or an array of supported styluses. On the iPad, you have built-in shortcuts for Photoshop, while the iPhone App is a stripped down affair, only giving you some limited key access.

Astropad isn’t in the business of supplanting drawing tablets. However, if you’re a casual artist, this is a lot more accessible. The stylus support is a huge plus, giving you a comparable experience to a drawing tablet. The iPhone app is a bit more barebones, but it is free.

Alfred Remote ($4.99)

What it Does: Gives you always-on access to Alfred, including your custom workflows.

Spotlight is good, but Alfred is better. Alfred is one of the more popular Spotlight alternatives, providing better options for search, and the ability to create custom searches. It can send commands right to Terminal, or system commands like “Sleep.” If you install the Powerpack, you can create custom scripts and actions. You’ll also get keyboard snippets and clipboard history.


Having all of these a keyboard shortcut away is great but once you install the Alfred Remote app for iOS, you can have them always visible and available in front of you. You’ll need to set up some pairing when you first install the app, and then you can customize different screens with your choice of actions. By default, there are some preconfigured pages with app and website launchers, but you can delete these to create your own.

Alfred Remote turns your iOS device into a second keyboard full of shortcuts and actions. You can create workflow and script pages, giving you an array of options. Strict keyboard junkies might not like it as much as the option + spacebar combo, but this app can save you a lot of time.

Screens ($19.99)

What it Does: Connect to remote computers using your iOS device, with the addition of features for power users.

There are many different VNC clients for iOS, but Screens is arguably the most powerful and one of its best features is solid hardware keyboard support. There is nothing more annoying than trying to send a terminal command or HTML tag and have your VNC client ignore “>” or “<.”


If you have to manage a lot of machines on your network, you can keep them organized in folders. There’s support for secure connections, and using a password manager (though secure connections via SSH require a bit of fiddling with key pairs). If you install Screens Connect on your Mac, you can also access your Mac from outside your network but you may need to map some ports on your router first.

The contextual toolbars are another nice touch, changing the interface based on the machine you’re connected to. Screens is simply the best way to manage remote machines on iOS.

Chrome Remote Desktop (Free)

What it Does: A no frills remote connection using the Chrome browser on your remote machine.

Twenty bucks is a bit steep if you just want to remote into your Mac and do a couple of quick tasks. For that, there’s Chrome Remote Desktop. It is a plugin for the Chrome Browser so you’ll need to install that first, then grab that extension from the Chrome Web Store.


Each computer you set up will need a PIN to connect. Then on your iOS device, you can sign into the remote computer using that PIN. Chrome Remote Desktop is a no frills experience, and keyboard support is non-existent. The built-in tech support feature is pretty handy, and you can set up one-time support sessions with the plugin, using a randomly generated code. So even if you’re using Screens, it might be nice to keep this installed for those emergency tech support calls.

Remote (Free)

What it Does: Lets you control iTunes on your Mac remotely.

If you’ve got some great speakers connected to your Mac, you can easily use it as your home stereo. But, when you’re sitting in the other room reading, you don’t want to get up and change the song. That’s where Remote comes in, by giving you control of iTunes on your Mac. Yes, you can use it for more than controlling the Apple TV when you’ve lost the remote again.


You can work with your local library, even creating playlists. Remote controls the volume of iTunes, but not the master volume on your Mac. If you rely on Apple Music for your listening habit, you’ll only be able to access tracks you’ve saved locally. It’s a slight downside, but here’s hoping Apple adds further support in the upcoming Apple Music update that’s hitting iOS 10 and macOS Sierra in the fall.

Keynote (Free)

What it Does: Control your presentation from your iOS device.

You can build, edit, and present using iOS, but that isn’t the best use of Keynote on iOS. Instead of remembering an external remote, or using whatever your office has lying around; you can use your iPhone to advance your slides.

You’ll need to do a bit of prep work, pairing your iPhone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi beforehand. After that, you hit an icon in the document picker in the iPhone app, and it will look for your Mac. Once they pair, hit play, and your presentation begins.


The Keynote remote isn’t just a touch screen remote. You can pull up presenter’s notes, and see combinations of the current or next slide. You can also easily annotate your presentation on the fly, drawing several different colored pens. There’s even a virtual laser pointer, giving you everything you might want from a presentation app. It’s available on the iPad as well, if you’re looking for a bit more real estate.

Bonus: Continuity and Handoff

What it Does: Exchange data and documents easily between iOS and macOS.

Continuity and Handoff seamlessly connect your Mac and iOS devices, but most people forget about it. You’re used to getting SMS messages and phone calls from your iPhone on your Mac, but there’s more going on. Continuity allows for your Mac to pair automatically with your iPhone when it is in hotspot mode. You can also use AirDrop to send files between your devices quickly.


Handoff is also convenient. You can start working on an email or document on your iOS device, and then pick it up to finish on your Mac. The app icon will appear on the far left of the dock with a little phone icon next to it, allowing you to pick up where you left off. This feature comes in handy when you have a webpage that refuses to play nice with the iPhone. If you start working on your Mac, the app icon will appear on the lock screen in iOS. Most Apple apps have support for Handoff, though third party support is a bit hit and miss.

Your Favorite Companions

So that’s just a few things you can do with your iOS devices to power up your Mac. Let us know in the comments what your favorite iOS app for working better on the Mac.

Do you use any iOS apps while working on your Mac?

Image Credit: Duet Display

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