One of the things that always surprises me about technology is how the little things can make such a big difference. Take for instance the Duet Display, a little 10 buck app that's totally changing the way I work.

I have been a proselytizer for standing desks for years, but have never been a fan of adjustable desks. You work differently at a standing desk and have the freedom to move from side to side; they can be wider and shallower than a conventional desk where you work on a radius from a fixed point. Studies have shown that people with adjustable desks tend to sit a lot more than they stand; it’s easy to get lazy.

Many of us are using notebooks, which have been getting lighter and lasting longer on batteries than ever before. The need for a fixed place of work is disappearing. That’s why so many modern office designs look like hotel lobbies these days — people are hanging out everywhere.  

lloyd alter standing desk

My standing desk setup. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

So I have always proposed a shallow fixed standing desk, little more than shelf, and when you need to sit, go sit somewhere else. I happen to like a big external monitor and a tough keyboard that I can bang away on, and I keep that at the standing desk. Around 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, when I just want to surf and look at what has happened in the day, I pull up to my 1952 George Nelson-designed Herman Miller desk and relax. But I miss my second screen; I usually use it to have twitter and Skype rolling by, my two biggest ties to the my coworkers and friends. 

Also I have been running a lot lately, and when I finish a five-mile run, my legs really want the rest of me to get off them and sit down. But I don’t want to move that big external monitor. (Maybe I was wrong about that adjustable desk.)

Enter Duet Display. It turns my iPad into a perfect second screen. I had previously tried other apps like AirDisplay that connected over WiFi, but found it to be jerky and slow. It never got the display resolution right. 

Not Duet. Plug my standard iPad charging cord into my Macbook and in just a second I have a perfect Retina-quality second screen. Where previously I used the iPad for a few hours a day when away from my desk, now it’s useful all day long (at least if I am sitting). Some have said that it's CPU intensive and that I will take a hit on performance but I haven’t noticed it yet.

And unlike an external monitor, an iPad is light enough to carry with you and have a dual monitor setup anywhere you want. I don’t think I would take it to a coffee shop — people might look at me funny — but I could. 

Really, there are certain functions that are waiting for the Internet of Things and seamless wireless connections. But here, a wire works a whole lot better and I didn’t even have to buy it, just 10 bucks for a clever app that does just what it promises and changes the way that I work. That’s smart design.

And now I have to really force myself to get back to my standing desk. Maybe not so smart a purchase!

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.