I've Been Waiting for This! AirPlay Mirroring to a Mac (no Apple TV required)

Update: Reflection has been renamed Reflector. It is available for Macintosh and for Windows PCs. Since the original post, there are now multiple ways to show an iPad on another screen.

I am so excited for a new Mac app called Reflection! It shows my iPad's screen live on my computer screen wirelessly!

In the past I've used different ways to show iPad's screen on a projector to an audience. I've used a document camera, a Point2View webcam, Apple's VGA adapter with an old-fashioned VGA switch, and an expensive Ephiphan VGA2USB signal grabber.

All of these past methods require iPad to be stationary. In an effort to keep iPad truly mobile, some educators are using Apple TV to mirror iPad's screen to a projector. Read Apple TV in the Classroom - The New Smart Board to learn how iPad and Apple TV offer a cost efficient alternative to expensive interactive whiteboards.

Wireless mirroring to Apple TV is made possible by AirPlay, a feature of iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. It's built into iOS, so there's no software to install. But, this method does require an Apple TV (version 2). If your projector doesn't have HDMI input, then you'll need to use an HDMI to VGA adapter and find a way to use wireless speakers since VGA does not carry audio.

As someone who travels, it's not ideal for me to carry around an Apple TV and VGA adapter and hope that I can set it up on the network at the school or conference. I'd love to use AirPlay mirroring, but I don't want to mess with an Apple TV. What I really want to do is mirror iPad's screen to my laptop. Since my laptop would be connected to the projector, then mirroring iPad to the laptop would allow it to be shown on the projector screen without cables, adapters, or any other pieces of hardware.


Finally a Mac app has been released that does what I've been wanting. Reflection turns your Mac into an AirPlay receiver. AirPlay is what Apple uses to send  and receive the video and sound from an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S to Apple TV. With the Reflection app, there is no software to install on the device since AirPlay is built in iOS devices and no Apple TV is required.

Reflection literally takes less than two minutes to setup. Here are the directions provided on Reflection's website:

Download Reflection and copy it to your Applications folder. After launching the app, double-tap the home button on your iPhone 4S or iPad 2 and swipe right on the multitask tray until you see the AirPlay icon next to the volume slider. Tap this and select your Mac from the list. Last, toggle the "Mirror" switch…voila!


Mirroring is great for modeling device use by the teacher. This is what I end up doing lots during my workshops. A live demo is much more effective than static screenshots. With Reflection and AirPlay, I'm not tethered to the front of the room using my iPad. I can move around with iPad and even hand it off to others while everyone else can see its screen live on the projector's screen.

Student devices can be mirrored as well. A student can activate mirroring from his device to the Mac running Reflection to instantly share ideas and their work. A student might have a graph made in Doodle Buddy to show the class. Mirror it! Another student might have made a book trailer with PuppetPals HD and wants to play it for the class. Mirror it! Groups of students made ShowMe screencasts to teach the rest of the class how to reduce fractions. There's nothing stopping them from mirroring!


Reflection is also great for making screencasts of what you seen iPad or iPhone's screen. You can use fancy or free software to record what's on the Mac's screen. However, the easiest way may be using QuickTime, which is on every Mac. Read how to record your screen with QuickTime. I foresee lots of tutorials and app reviews being made this way.

How about another use for Reflection? Teachers can monitor what students are doing on their devices. At least three devices can be mirrored simultaneously to one Mac. I don't know the limit because I only had three devices to test at the time. Each device that mirrors shrinks the others on the Mac's screen. So even if you could mirror a whole class set, the screens would be far to small to view. But, certain students who might be on iPad "probation" may be required to mirror to the teacher's computer for monitoring. The teacher's computer wouldn't be projecting--it would just be for the teacher to oversee what's happening on the device. 


One more idea for you: With Reflection and Airplay, you can turn an iPad or iPhone into a wireless document camera. Simply launch the Camera app on the device and what's seen by the camera is seen on your computer screen and projector. You can prop iPad off a box or crate or buy or make some contraption and point it at a book, student art, magazine picture, science experiment--anything that shows up on the camera can be projected for an audience.

What else might you need to know?

  • Currently only iPad 2 and iPhone 4S support AirPlay mirroring.
  • Reflection requires a Mac running OS X 10.6 or higher.
  • You can try Reflection for free, but it will shut down after 10 minutes.
  • A single license for Reflection is $14.99. It's $49.99 for 5 licenses.
  • You can choose to have an iPad or iPhone frame to be displayed around the screen. Or, you can choose to go full screen on the Mac. Full screen doesn't scale to take up the entire display unless you set it to a low resolution.
  • When mirroring, rotate the device's screen and it will appear rotated on the Mac as well.
  • The Mac and the device must be on the same Wi-Fi network.
  • You can set Reflection to require a password from the device before it can AirPlay to your computer. This is important so that not just anyone can suddenly have their iPad show up on your screen.
  • Since a device's screen is streamed across WiFi, slower or busier networks may not perform very well, especially when there are lots of moving graphics onscreen.
  • AirPlay might not work on your school or organization's network. If it doesn't work, you could set up a computer-to-computer network on your Mac and connect iPad to that network.
  • You cannot control iPad from your Mac. Clicking or typing on the iPad in Reflection will do nothing.
  • Install Reflection on your Mac connected to your Smart Board or ActivBoard and you'll be able to mirror your device on the whiteboard. However, you cannot control iPad through the whiteboard. The only way to interact with iPad is through its touchscreen or using a Bluetooth keyboard.
  • Some apps do not mirror. For example, the Videos app will show only the video over AirPlay and display the controls on iPad's screen. Similarly, PaperPort Notes displays the document over AirPlay, but the app's tools are only visible on iPad. This works the same when mirrored with an adapter as well.
  • The gestures performed on iPad's screen cannot be seen through AirPlay, so your audience cannot see your tapping, touching, swiping, pinching, etc.

There used to be a Mac app that did something similar to Reflection called Banana TV. However, development stopped on Banana TV because Apple kept changing aspects of AirPlay with each new iOS update. The developer couldn't keep up. Hopefully Reflection will continue to work with future updates because it's what I've been waiting for!

Update March 22, 2012

In the last couple of weeks I've used Reflection for several workshops and for screencasting. There are still some bugs to be worked out, in particular how large iPad appears on the Mac screen. I found that the image of my iPad's screen would often freeze on the Mac. That's not a good thing when I am happily demoing an app and I think the audience is following along.  I also found that some apps cause Reflection to suddenly quit. Apps that record audio seem to cause the shutdowns. This might not be Reflection's fault. The Sock Puppets, PuppetPals, and i Tell a Story apps also causes the AirPlay connection to drop on an Apple TV. 

Released the same week as Reflection is similar software called AirServer. It's very similar to Reflection and the cost is a little less. AirServer has a 7 day free trial.

UpdateMay 7, 2012

AirServer now has a version for PCs!  This means Windows computers can be used for wireless mirroring. Read more in my post Wireless Mirroring from iPad to PC Now a Reality