Now is also a great time to remind you that I wrote my first MakeUseOf guide - iPad: A Magical and Revolutionary Guide – which you can download for free, and which features lots of general hints and tips as well as 40 of our favourite (free) app picks. We also covered a number of iPhone based remote control apps last year.
Why Would I Want To Remote Control My Computer From My iPad?
- Support distant friends and family when they have computer problems.
- Use your iPad as a remote control for your media center computer hooked up to the TV.
- Download torrents without having to set up complicated web interfaces.
- Do some quick image editing while out and about.
- Put a server in the cupboard and manage it from your iPad.
Limitations Of Any Remote Desktop App
When dealing with remote desktop apps, the speed of your Internet connection is the only real limitation, and slower connections will result in higher latency and lower frame rates. For general computing, remote desktop control is generally quite useable – although it depends on the protocol being used.
Bear in mind that no remote desktop app is going to allow you to play graphics intensive games over the remote connection. Minesweeper – yes, Call of Duty – no. If you’re looking for a demo of what might be possible in the future though, I’d suggest you take a look at the OnLive iPad app, which lets you voyeuristically watch streaming live videos of thousands of people currently playing games through their onLive cloud gaming system.
With that in mind, let’s look at the four best apps I’ve chosen today.
Best Overall – Teamviewer HD
Free for non-commercial use, TeamViewer is the de-facto standard for cross-platform remote control, support, and presentations. With a simple 10MB download for Windows, Mac, Linux and iOS, TeamViewer really is as simple as it gets. Run the app, and get a 9-digit access code and 4-digit password. Type those into your app, and in seconds you’ll be connected. No fuss, no settings, no firewall configuration, no registration – it just works.
Here’s a screenshot of the Mac app. On the left is the access code to have someone connect to you, on the right is where you can connect to someone else.
Once connected, it’ll take a while to get used to the controls. To move the mouse pointer you drag it around, and you can also pinch the screen to zoom in and out. There’s no voice communications, so if you do need to voice chat then you’ll still need Skype or a phone. TeamViewer HD is perfect for quick and easy remote support though, and my personal remote control app of choice for any and every purpose.
Download the iPad, Android, and your OS version app all from teamviewer.com
Best Performance: SplashTop Remote Free (Mac & Windows)
Though the free version is limited to 5 minutes, I had to include this app because of the sheer performance. Basically, SplashTop is fast – fast enough that I was even able to open a streaming video application and watch a video jitter free, with the sound streaming perfectly too. Games are also possible, but not if they use directX.
Honorable Mention For Mac & Linux: MochaVNC Lite
VNC is a standards based protocol for remote connections. It’s incredibly slow, but support is built-in to OsX through the Sharing option. For Windows, you’ll also need a VNC server of some sort, so you may as well go with one of the better options above. MochaVNC Lite packs a lot of features into the free price tag, and managed to find all my devices automatically.
If you’re having problems on OsX, make sure you aren’t using your user password, but a special VNC password that is set via the Preferences -> Sharing -> Screen Sharing pane under Computer Settings:
Honorable Mention For Windows: PocketCloud Free
For Windows 7 Remote Desktop connections (learn more about them in our free network manual), PocketCloud was the most reliable free app I could find. RDP is a remote control protocol developed by Microsoft and used exclusively in Windows, though it doesn’t come with the home edition.
When you log in through RDP, you’ll be logged out on the actual system, which is rather disconcerting. It is however pretty responsive, far more so than a VNC connection would ever be. If you literally just need access to your own Windows desktop, then definitely go with this app. The free version allows you to configure just one device, and you do need to run a helper application as well as log in with a Google account, which may put a lot of people off.
As you can see, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to remote desktop control on your iPad. Personally, I’d go with TeamViewer HD for a universal option and ease of use for both end users, but it really depends upon your needs. No app will be perfect though, because the iPad is fundamentally a touch-screen device, and Windows/OSx aren’t. For more specific remote control uses such as movie streaming or iTunes control, you might want to look at more dedicated apps.
Let us know what you prefer in the comments.