[Athen] The Joy of Remote Desktops on an iPad (long post)

Shelley Haven ShelleyHaven at techpotential.net
Sun May 2 01:02:58 PDT 2010

OK, the subject line is a bit frivolous and the post is long, but I think some of you may find this very useful.

About a month ago, I posted about accessing one's Windows or Mac computer remotely from an iPad (Apr. 7th - "Running Mac and Windows apps on the iPad...sort of"). I hadn't tried any of these remote desktop apps until now because most are fairly pricey -- from $10 to $25 -- more than I cared to spend just to try them. But a new app, "Remoter", was released on Friday for only 99 cents (limited time offer), so I gave it a spin. (http://tinyurl.com/28b8tmg)

As the developer himself says, it has some bugs and is missing a few features, but he's promised to address these within a week or so. In the meantime, here's a chance to inexpensively explore the Wonderful World of VNC (virtual network computing) and see if you want to pursue it further. (Instructions for set up are at the very end of this post.)

BTW, most of this also applies to remote desktop access from an iPod Touch (using an iPhone VNC app), though some things would simply not be practical given the smaller screen size.


My impressions of viewing and controlling my computer from an iPad:

- Shrinking a laptop or desktop screen down to iPad size has its limitations. I have over 30 items in my Dock, so on the iPad each icon is only 1/8-inch tall -- really hard to click. But you can pinch and zoom in or out with your fingers to expand a portion of the screen, then swipe in any direction to move around in the window.

- This particular remote desktop app doesn't show the cursor location; other VNC apps do.

- Motion is somewhat jerky (e.g., watching a video) and screen redraws are slightly delayed and not particularly smooth, but for other uses it's fine (e.g., typing, opening/closing files, etc.).

- Sound is not streamed from the computer to the iPad, just the visuals. (I believe other VNC apps such as Desktop Connect can stream audio, but only from a Windows PC.) If the computer is in the same room, you can simply run external speakers from the computer and set them adjacent to the iPad.

- Keep in mind that touch screens function differently from using a mouse, so you touch the screen to relocate the cursor (analogous to moving the mouse to that spot) and double-tap to "click" whatever is at that location, but there's no easy equivalent of "click-and-drag". So operations such as moving a window, scrolling, dragging an Inspiration symbol, or highlighting text in Kurzweil are either more cumbersome or impossible. (The developer of this particular app promises to add click-and-drag capability in the next version.)


So, why would you want to use an iPad to remotely connect to your laptop or desktop? Some ideas:

- Run any educational program where the student clicks (touches) a particular icon and the screen responds. In essence, you have a lightweight touchscreen device running computer apps, not iPad apps.

- Use an onscreen keyboard to provide access to keys missing from the iPad keyboard (control, tab, alt/option, F-keys, number keypad, arrows keys, etc.). The Mac's built-in Keyboard Viewer will not work, but a program like KeyStrokes will (http://www.orin.com/access/keystrokes/), opening the possibility of customizable keyboards. (I haven't checked the Windows side of things yet -- its built-in onscreen keyboard may work.)

- Use word prediction or macros. This is particularly good when combined with the customizable onscreen keyboard. I've been playing around with KeyStrokes and its built-in word prediction, and also Co:Writer 6 -- both work well. I set up Co:Writer with the Word Window, opened a Word Bank, and typed using the iPad's keyboard. The screen is crowded, but it simulates a touchscreen Mac. (I'm actually typing this paragraph with Co:Writer using the setup I just described.)

- No need to download the finished product from the iPad to your computer because you've actually been working on the computer the whole time. :-)

- Use the iPad as a small remote monitor -- it displays to others whatever's happening on your desktop screen. No sound, but they can see everything and control it by touch.

- Conversely, use the iPad to remotely monitor what a student is doing on their computer.

- Access Flash on the iPad. If you've followed all the press on this lately, you know that Apple does not support Adobe Flash on the iPad/iPod/iPhone (Steve Jobs' explanation why: http://tinyurl.com/2e2cw4u and the Adobe CEO's response: http://tinyurl.com/2eymh8w ). But with VNC, you can view and interact with Flash that's streamed from your desktop -- applications, games, etc. For illustration, try to view the following interactive Flash-enabled applications via Safari on the iPad, then using Remoter:

- The possibility of joint activities with two or more iPads (or iPod Touches) connected to the same computer. I can't verify this because I only have one iPad, but I was able to use VNC to connect both my iPad and another MacBook to my "main" computer simultaneously and use both to control that computer (think "collaboration"). Conversely, a teacher could demonstrate something on the main computer which would display on multiple iPads.


Remoter still has some bugs, and ultimately may be not be the best remote desktop/VNC app for AT purposes (there are several others available), but it gives you a chance to explore remote access to your computer for only 99 cents. Then you can decide if you want to pursue it further. Personally, I'm excited about the possibilities.

- Shelley

Shelley Haven ATP, RET
Assistive Technology Consultant


Setting up Remoter

Brief (almost too brief) set-up instructions by the developer:
In Remoter, press "+" to create a VNC "session" then enter the appropriate info.

More info for connecting to a Mac:
1) In the Mac's Sharing preferences window (per the developer's instructions), you will see "Computer Name"; enter this in Remoter under "Name".
2) When you check Screen Sharing, you will see a message "Other users can access your computer at vnc://192.xxx.xxx.xxx"; enter that number in Remoter under "Hostname".
3) Enter the Sharing password you just created on your Mac in Remoter under "Password".

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