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The word "Tablet" is overloaded. It could refer to a device like an iPad, but it could also refer to a device similar to a Wacom tablet, often called a "pen tablet" or "graphics tablet."

I recently started using Sidecar and noticed the documentation states:

You can also use [your Apple Pencil] to write, sketch, and mark up documents while seeing the updates live on your Mac.

This sounded like the iPad could be used as a Pen Tablet just like a Wacom tablet. I.e. I "write on my document" and "see the updates live on my Mac." However, I don't see how to enable that feature. (Sidebar: if they're referring to something else here, please let me know what they mean by this line.)

The closest I could get was by mirroring the screen and drawing on the tablet. However, this has several disadvantages over a Pen Tablet:

  1. It only has one mode, absolute mode. A tablet like Wacom allows you to choose between absolute (i.e. Pen mode) vs. relative (i.e. Mouse mode) mode.
  2. Theres no "hover" feature that Pen Tablets usually have. This is useful so you know where you're about to draw on the screen before you actually draw. Even if it's not possible for the iPad to detect when the pen is hovering above it, the same effect could likely be mimicked thanks to the pressure sensitivity (e.g. light pressure = hover, stronger pressure = click).
  3. Since the screen resolutions aren't the same, I'm either going to have black bars on my iPad or black bars on my MacBook. Had it been functioning as a Pen Tablet, it wouldn't need to match any resolutions, therefore I could use my iPad's entire screen real estate for pen gestures, as well as my entire MacBook's screen real estate for display purposes.
  4. It needs to send video data to the iPad, likely reducing battery life on both the iPad and MacBook. (E.g. as opposed to keeping the screen off/black.)

If there was a way to turn an iPad into a Pen Tablet via Sidecar, similar to how the documentation suggests, I'm guessing all of those issues would likely be addressed.

Also note that I'd rather avoid a 3rd party app so I don't need to install/set up anything.

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  • Regarding the hover part, the iPad doesn’t have such hardware to have hover. The galaxy note series uses a Wacom tablet under the screen, allowing hover to work in a pen with no battery, but this is not the case with the Apple Pencil Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 14:11
  • Actually, AstroPad's Luna offering does have what certainly appears to be a credible hover mechanism for the Apple Pencil that at least looks like it works (vimeo.com/770883932), though I've not tried/used/personally seen it live. Of course, it also necessitates the use of their $100+ dongle, so factor that in appropriately and as you see fit. S'worth noting, though.
    – NerdyDeeds
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 18:12

2 Answers 2

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Your question is based on the false premise that the quote "You can also use [your Apple Pencil] to write, sketch, and mark up documents while seeing the updates live on your Mac." must mean that it should work exactly like your preferred Wacom tablet. That is not the case.

If you prefer Wacom tablets, I would suggest buying such a device instead of using Sidecar - then you can get a product that works exactly like a Wacom tablet (because it is a Wacom tablet).

Regarding your list of disadvantages:

  1. Yes, there's no generic option for having a "relative mode" input. However, a specific application on your Mac is free to implement such a mode for that application specifically.

  2. Yes, there's no "hover" feature - and it is not possible to enable such a feature with the current hardware and software. Individiual applications are free to offer "simulated" hover - for example in the manner you describe.

  3. No, you do not necessarily have to have black bars. By default your desktop "extends" to the SideCar display instead of mirroring - in that case you do not have the black bars. If you want to see the effect of using the pencil on the iPad simultaneously on your macOS display (and not only on the iPad display), you would then want to use an application that allows you to have the same document open in 2 windows at the same time.

  4. Yes, video data is being sent to the iPad - that's how it works. Specific applications can avoid that by having a "black" window on the iPad so that video data does not have to be transferred, and having a "content" window on the Mac display showing that results.

All in all, SideCar is not meant to be the same as a Wacom tablet. It has different pros and cons. You can avoid some of the disadvantages that you experience by using applications intended for your purpose, as described above. If your favorite applications does not offer such a mode, you would need to ask (or pay) the developer to create such a mode.

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  • To be fair: the Cintiq One is half the price of a comparably-size iPad Pro, and CAN do all those things OP is asking after (since, as you point out, it IS a wacom tablet). But an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil can do all of the same things from a drawing perspective as the Cintiq (pressure sensitivity, palm rejection, angle of incidence detection, pretty much all but hover), and the tech is absolutely there to extend the screen and to use it as a Human Interface Device. It's not an irrational presupposition of OP's that it could be doable. I mean, hell, it SEEMS like it should be, amiright?
    – NerdyDeeds
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 18:38
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    I never said it was an irrational presupposition that it should be doable. Of course it’s doable - technically it’s even simpler to make than Apple’s SideCar. However, it’s simply not what Apple chose to make. Everyone is free to make that product if they wish - but you would be disappointed if you expected SideCar to work that way in itself.
    – jksoegaard
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 20:18
  • Oh, please don't misunderstand: I meant no criticism there of you or your answer. I was just voicing my own thoughts as I was reading OP's post. It DOES seem like it should be possible, but also seems like Apple either missed an opportunity or made a curious decision was all I'd been trying to get at (and I say that as a former Apple developer). Like yanking Target Display Mode from the last few iMacs... their prerogative, to be sure, but I cannot help but be baffled by the choice. No, your answer is totally factually correct; I'm just voicing my sympathy/commiseration with OP.
    – NerdyDeeds
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 18:02
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You will want a technology and app suite like Astropad and not sidecar if your goal is to have Wacom pen input between a Mac an an iPad.

Sidecar is designed for output like a display and macOS doesn’t really contemplate touch input in displays that support that either. This is intentionally baked into the OS and SDK deeply and not just that Apple forgot to enable the touch for macOS.

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