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OS X Lion Full Screen Mode Doesn’t Get Along With Multiple Displays

Posted in News, OS X on 16/06/2011 by J. Glenn Künzler

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If you use multiple monitors in your Mac setup, you just might be be interested to find that when OS X Lion (at least the latest Developer Preview) is running full screen apps, it apparently stops supporting usage of multiple displays.

While Lion does support and work with multiple monitors, it doesn’t work so well when you decide to use the newly-designed full-screen mode demonstrated at WWDC 2011. You can mirror or extend your displays like normal, but once you put an app into full screen mode, your primary display becomes your only display, with your additional monitors simply displaying a nice-looking dark linen background.

There has been some speculation as to why this might be the case. OS X Daily points out that full screen apps might have been designed specifically with MacBook users in mind, and was never intended to be used with desktop Macs. The pixel-saving nature of full screen apps just isn’t that useful when hooked up to a larger display – the feature seems to really be pointing at the smaller displays that come standard on MacBooks.

Another possibility is that this is just a bug, quirk, or issue with the Developer Preview of Lion, and that it might be fixed before a final release, enabling the continued use of multiple monitors when using full screen apps.

Whatever the reason is, if Lion comes to retail continuing to handle external displays in this manner, I’ll consider it a massive oversight on Apple’s part. Users of a MacBook (particularly a MacBook Air, where the full screen apps seem the most useful) might enjoy using a full screen app on their main screen, while using an external monitor to display their stocks, picture slides, calendars, and so forth, and it seems like they should have the option to do so. I don’t care if this is the default behavior in the final version of Lion, but Apple needs to at least make this behavior configurable in settings.app.

While the obvious solution is just not to use full screen apps when connected to multiple displays, it’s not a very good solution, and will probably become a common source of irritation for users that wish the employ their computer in this manner.

Your thoughts? Sound off in the comments!



  • http://twitter.com/mellomaster132 Bryce Johnson

    That would be horrible! Cause I love using multi monitors!

  • http://twitter.com/mellomaster132 Bryce Johnson

    That would be horrible! Cause I love using multi monitors!

  • http://twitter.com/stenpett Sten J. Pettersen

    The same issue is present in Snow Leopard as well… When I connect my MacBook to a larger display to view videos, I sometimes end up going to full screen on the 13″ rather than the 40″…

    The most stable solution is to shut the lid, wake up the Mac using my external mouse, and use only the 40″…

  • http://twitter.com/stenpett Sten J. Pettersen

    The same issue is present in Snow Leopard as well… When I connect my MacBook to a larger display to view videos, I sometimes end up going to full screen on the 13″ rather than the 40″…

    The most stable solution is to shut the lid, wake up the Mac using my external mouse, and use only the 40″…

    • Your mom

      wow, I just drag the video window to the other monitor and hit fullscreen there.. What you do is really dumb.

      • Kevex91

        No it isn’t, if you close the lid and wake to external monitor, you got a higher resolution on that external monitor which is even better!!!

        • Ve mil

          No you don’t, I’m not saying what you’re doing is dumb, but it is not necessary, the resolution of the display and displayed items remains the same as the monitor’s native resolution. ‘Closed-lid’ as it is called is fine if you just want the external monitor on, but simply dragging the video/application to the monitor you want and then ‘full-screening’ it will work perfectly fine too. If this is not the case for you there maybe a problem with you’re mac.

          • Kevex91

            no you should try it. The resolution (actual number of pixels) gets higher since you only have to power the external monitor. on my 13 mbp, i can go up to 1080p resolution on my projector. I can tell because the actual space on the desktop is bigger and icons look smaller. try it, and set higher resolution on external monitor, you’ll see. amazing =D

          • Dennis Gutierrez

            Wow, so uhm If i understand correctly what you are saying is that if you are using both displays the MBP is not able to handle the higher resolution that is set when you close the lid? That must truly suck, I am sorry you are limited in that way.

          • ddusk

            If that is true you must have some really old MBP. Because all those that sold the last few years support the main + a 1080p screen easily (even bigger screens are possible).
            If you have not such a really old MBP you are definitely doing something wrong. Driving many pixels isn’t even a problem for really bad GPUs it is not that demanding in 2D mode, as long as the buffers and most of the fixed function unit is designed to handle the amount of pixels, they run fine.
            Set refresh back to 30hz the Intel GPU in the current MBP 13″ shouldn’t have any troubles feeding a 2560×1600 30″ screen next to the main screen. The main screen requires only a quater of the pixel budget it supports. The Nvidia GPUs and ATI/AMD GPUs can even drive more than Intel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1240056650 John Robert O’Connor

    I use a external monitor with my MBP all the time so I really hope this gets worked out!

    • http://MacTrast.com J. Glenn Kunzler

      To be clear, you still can use multiple monitors – just not while using the new full-screen app feature in Lion.

  • http://twitter.com/TheGT Nelson Clemente

    Yep. This is indeed the default behaviour in the final version of Lion… and yes, it is irritating.

  • Stinkiy

    YEAH!!

J. Glenn Künzler

Author

J. Glenn Künzler

Glenn is Managing Editor at MacTrast, and has been using a Mac since he bought his first MacBook Pro in 2006. Now he's up to his neck in Apple, and owns an old iBook, a 2012 iMac with an extra Thunderbolt display for good measure, a 4th-generation iPad, an iPad mini, 2 iPhones, and a Mac Mini that lives at the neighbor's house. He lives in a small town in Utah, enjoys bacon more than you can possibly imagine, and is severely addicted to pie.