Ever since the very first remote controls were invented, we’ve been fascinated with operating our gadgets wirelessly. The very nature of the iPhone’s touch screen gives it a great deal of potential as a remote control. Whether that’s as a virtual trackpad, an extra keypad, or a fully fledged remote view of your desktop.
Today we’ll be looking at a few of the different options available for controlling your computer with an iPhone. This won’t be an extensive look at media remotes – rather those that offer control of your whole machine.
Broadly speaking, it’s possible to categorise iPhone remote control applications into two different fields: (a) those that act as a controller – e.g. a keyboard/mouse, and (b) those that let you interact with a virtual view of your desktop. The difference being that one type of app requires you’re looking at your computer screen, and the other shows your computer screen on the iPhone itself.
Basic Remote Controls
At a fairly basic level, the iPhone is able to act as an extra input device for your computer. This could be imitating a simple trackpad, keyboard, or a slightly more complex combination of the two. Here are three of my favourite applications that you may find useful for this very purpose:
Snatch offers a handy trackpad, mouse and keyboard, along with a new feature called “Remote Control Editor” for designing and creating your own remote control layout. It works well as a basic trackpad, but has a great deal more to offer as you dig deeper into the software.
They also have a number of different remotes available to download from their website that allow greater control over specific applications. The only thing lacking is the interface, which could really use a little extra polish in certain areas. It’s priced at $3.99, and is definitely worth trying out.
Rowmote is similar to Snatch, but started life as a phenomenally simple “Apple Remote” application for the iPhone. It has since expanded to offer new features such as a wireless touchpad and keyboard, multi-touch gestures, along with control over launching and quitting certain applications right from your phone.
It’s another well designed application, with a slightly more appealing interface than Snatch. It’s priced at a similar $4.99, though you can try out the $0.99 version if you’d just like to experiment with the basic Apple Remote functionality.
Last, but by no means least, is Air Mouse Pro. This unique application uses the iPhone accelerometer to transform your hand gestures into mouse movements on the screen. It works surprisingly well, and is a thoroughly innovative way to navigate your computer. If you find this too unusual, there’s a traditional trackpad and keyboard too.
You can control your computer in all manner of advanced ways: multitouch gestures, a media and web remote, sleep/wake your machine, and it works well with multiple monitors.
Thoroughly recommended for the excellent price of $1.99.
“Virtual Desktop” Remotes
Broadly speaking, these use a technology called Virtual Network Computing to remotely display a real-time image of your computer desktop. This technology isn’t new, and is actually bundled into OS X itself.
iPhone applications simply connect to your Mac or PC across a network (usually Wi-Fi) and let you interact with your actual computer desktop.
Here are a number of applications that offer an excellent virtual desktop solution for the iPhone:
The “daddy” of the VNC clients, Jaadu is pitched as the most full-featured and reliable app, and is priced at $24.99. This sounds like an awful lot at first glance, but you do receive a great deal of functionality for your money. It works with both Mac and Windows, giving you full control of your computer from anywhere in the world.
The latest version implements copy-and-paste, as well as a full screen mode that removes toolbars. If you’re looking for the most powerful VNC tool, look no further.
Priced at a slightly more reasonable $5.99, Mocha VNC is a second option with marginally less functionality. It supports the standard VNC protocol, authentication, and acts as a mouse/keyboard. Nothing ground breaking, but a decent option for a low price.
Before purchasing, it’s worth trying out the Lite version so you can judge the performance for yourself. This cut-down app is completely free.
Here are a handful of other VNC apps that you may like to try out:
- RemoteTap – A relative newcomer, with some excellent features for working specifically with Macs.
- iRemote Desktop – Built specifically for Windows, with a simple user interface.
- WinAdmin – Another Windows only client, that’s currently on sale.
A Few Tips
It’s worth bearing in mind that the faster your network connection, the better this type of application will respond. Regularly downloading an entire image of your computer desktop is a slow process and, even though these apps try to optimise the process as best they can, having a strong Wi-Fi connection will certainly improve the experience.
It’s also always worth taking security into consideration. Be sure to use a strong password for any Remote Desktop or VNC connection, and make sure devices outside your network are not able to connect.
Of course a number of other apps are available for controlling specific programs (iTunes or Keynote for instance). These have a narrower focus, and we may well be taking a look at them in a future article on iPhone.AppStorm.
I’m very interested to know how you use your iPhone as a remote control, which applications you prefer, and which you’ve found not to work particularly well. Please share your thoughts in the comments!