Clamshell mode - Work with the MacBook closed

If you work on a closed Apple MacBook (Air / Pro) by using an external display, an external keyboard and a mouse or an external trackpad, then this is called clamshell mode. In this guide, I will show you where it got its name from and what tricks make it easier to use a MacBook in clamshell mode. Do you have any comments, tips or app recommendations for using the closed Apple laptop? Then please leave a comment with your recommendations.

What is clamshell mode on Apple MacBook (Pro / Air)? How does working on a closed laptop work? And what tips do we have regarding the monitor and other hardware? Here are all the answers to the topic!

What is clamshell mode on Apple MacBook (Pro / Air)? How does working on a closed laptop work? And what tips do we have regarding the monitor and other hardware? Here are all the answers to the topic!

Clamshell mode of the MacBook - Where does the name come from?

clamshell is the English word for conch shell. It came about as a name for Apple laptops when the iBook G1999 was introduced in 3. This had the shape of a mussel shell or, when opened, a mussel. In addition to the PowerBook laptops, which were designed more for professional users, the iBook was marketed between 1999 and 2006 as the "mobile iMac" aimed at private users, students and schoolchildren. The name "clamshell" has not stuck to the product line, but to the closed mode of use, also and especially with regard to Apple's MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

MacBook Clamshell Mode Accessories (Pro/Air)

As mentioned above, it is difficult to work on a closed laptop without additional hardware. The most necessary peripherals for the input and output of signals consist of these elements:

  • At least one external display (monitor, television, beamer, etc.)
  • External mouse and/or external trackpad (connected via USB or Bluetooth)
  • External keyboard (connected via USB or Bluetooth)

Mac Advisor: 5 tips against Bluetooth problems on Mac

Use a monitor on the closed MacBook - duplicate the display

If you work with the Apple MacBook in clamshell mode, i.e. with the display folded down, you will need to connect an external display. It is important that the display on the monitor or iMac used as a monitor shows the same as the laptop's display. You achieve this by using System Settings -> Scout -> arrangement select the Sync Screens option. An extension of the display, i.e. using the two available displays as separate desks, is not worthwhile in clamshell mode, since the cursor and app window can disappear on the closed display. This only complicates the work unnecessarily.

Monitors for the home office: Here is a selection of affordable models

Multiple monitors on the closed MacBook - extend the display

The situation is different if you use multiple monitors on the MacBook. Then you can split the ad among them. You can find out how many monitors with which resolution you can connect via -Menu -> About this Mac -> Support -> Specifications. If I click on this on my MacBook Pro from 2012, then I find this information on the website called up in this way under "Graphics and video support": "Simultaneously supporting the full native resolution on the integrated display and a resolution of up to 2560 x 1600 pixels on an external display, [...]". The newer the MacBook, the more monitors can be connected (4 pieces with M1 Max chip).

Practical: Monitor stands for one or two monitors

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6 comments

  1. Peter William says:

    Hi John,
    oh come on now! It can't be all. There are still many questions.
    Doesn't the Mac get too hot then?
    How about booting and unlocking?
    What do I do if the taskbar wants something from me?
    fingerprint sensor?
    Can the Mac really always stay, or do I have to keep opening it for something?

    The fact that you need a keyboard, mouse and monitor when the Book is closed is not worth an article.
    I'm a fan of your articles. Ask Jens! ;-)

    But the article promises more than it delivers.

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hi Peter! I think Johannes is already on his deserved weekend. I'll answer for him. Thank you for your questions! I've been working in clamshell mode for so long that I haven't even thought about these things. We'll get back to it and expand the article with your questions. 😊 Gladly more if someone wants to know something specific. LG, Jens

  2. Ricci says:

    Hello everyone, until recently I was working with my MacBook Pro End 17 15″ and an Apple Cinema 21″ (I have since thrown it away) and an external keyboard. For this purpose, the MB was closed but always had to remain connected to the mains, since it went black even though it had its own mains connection. Unfortunately, this way of working was noticeable with my battery, as it always remained charged at 100%. Now I have a service message on the battery display, which means the capacity is on a sinking star. Does anyone have any advice or is it still the same problem with a new separate monitor, for example the Eizo EV 2460? Thanks for the helpful tips and have a nice weekend

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hello Ricci! Yes, I know the problem... Apple now has battery optimization in macOS, which recognizes whether your MacBook is often connected to the mains when you are working. If this is the case, the battery will only be charged up to 80%. There are also apps like Aldente that you can use. These tell you when the Mac needs to be unloaded again. Then you have to run it open to work. At about 20% you get the message again that you should infect it. This keeps the battery going a bit and doesn't die as quickly.

  3. Flaver says:

    Hallo,
    Thank you for your contributions!
    I would be interested in how it works when switching on - if the Macbook is closed, I have to open it, press the start button and close it again ... is there a solution for this (Macbook Pro M1, external keyboard with finger sensor, external screen.

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hello Flaver! No, unfortunately there is no solution. This came with one of the last major macOS updates and, as far as I know, cannot be avoided. Basically, the solution is not to turn off the Mac, just put it to sleep. This is how I do it...

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