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Get Mirroring to Work at Your Library! by Bradley Jones

The ideal way to present iPad apps to a large group (as in more than 5) is to mirror wirelessly to a big projection screen. iPads come with a feature called “AirPlay” that makes this possible. With AirPlay, you can connect your iPad to your laptop or an AppleTV over a shared wifi network—connect that laptop or AppleTV to a projector and, blammo!—you’re projecting! (Read Tony Vincent’s article “6 Ways to Show Your iPad on a Projector Screen”). Unfortunately, many of us have discovered it’s not as easy as that at our library. Here’s the rub: AirPlay and AppleTV are consumer products designed to be used by individuals on a home wifi network. Institutional wifi networks for public use have safeguards to prevent people from accessing each other’s devices. Unfortunately, those safeguards also prevent AirPlay from working.

But there ARE workarounds (Yay! Workarounds!) One workaround is to create an “ad hoc” wifi network. That’s the official term for it, though it sounds informal and sort of, well, ad hoc (you can also say “peer-to-peer” if you don’t like “ad hoc”). The general idea is to create a wifi hot-spot—sort of a mini wifi network that you are in charge of—that allows your devices to do what they need to do so AirPlay can work.

Tony Vincent posted this link to instructions for setting up an ad hoc network in response to a comment on the “6 Ways” article above. I tried this out with a MacBook running Reflector App. Following the instructions, it’s pretty easy to set up the ad hoc network with the MacBook as the hotspot. When it works, your wifi symbol will have an up arrow in it.

Ad Hoc Network

Open Reflector App on the MacBook and connect the iPad to the ad hoc network by entering the name and password for the network that you created. Double click the home button to open the iPad’s “tray” and slide all the way to the left to see the “AirPlay” button.

AirPlay

Use that to connect to the MacBook and start mirroring. You would need a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter to hook the MacBook up to your projector. I didn’t try this with a Windows computer, but a quick Google shows me there are plentiful how-tos, so it should be possible.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention an internet connection. It is possible to use an ad hoc network for mirroring without an internet connection if all you want to do is project an app that is already downloaded onto the iPad. If you want internet access, you’ll need to have your laptop plugged in with an Ethernet cable. Also, you’ll probably need to have your IT Dept. “allow” the MacBook to connect to the network by adding its MAC address to their whitelist. (MAC is different from Apple’s “Mac,” I was surprised to find out—it means Media Access Control address. It is a unique identifier for any device on a network.) There are many variations on this set up you could try—for instance, if you had your laptop hooked up by Ethernet, but it was too far away to plug it into the projector, you could probably use an AppleTV added to the ad hoc network to connect to the projector.

Please note: you MUST put a password on your ad hoc network if you connect it to your Library’s network via Ethernet. Actually, it’s possible to set it up without a password but that would be Very Bad, especially from your Network Admin’s perspective. Not password protecting the ad hoc network opens up a backdoor to the library network and circumvents all the security work they do—please don’t do that.

Besides the ad hoc network idea, there is another workaround which we’re using at my library: we set up a separate wifi network just for the mirroring devices. My IT department actually already had a “test” wifi network set up that wasn’t being used—our Network Specialist had to open up the necessary ports and give me the name of the network and the password. They also needed to add the MAC addresses of the devices I’d be using to the network white list. Now, when I need to mirror, I connect the AppleTV and the iPad to this network, connect with AirPlay, and mirroring happens.

I hope that this post is more helpful than confusing—and there are certainly more questions to address, so please share your successes and challenges with mirroring setups in the comments! Many thanks to Dave Nelson in our LAN Department for talking me through the ad hoc test for this write-up. And, since it is bad form to have a whole blog post with almost no pictures, here is my cat, Marcel…

Cat

Bradley Jones
Youth Technology Librarian
Skokie Public Library