The iPad Chronicles: Remote Accessing the Desktop

Though a number of us are willing to experiment with having the iPad as their primary computer, we are still living in a world, where one needs access to a desktop environment. Be it their work computer or access to apps not yet available to the iPad.

Taking a look at the options … there are not that many. And none of them provides an absolute elegant solution. Elegant where the change from iOS to desktop is seamless and beautiful. Nothing yet exists in the software world that achieves such ambition.

I have yet to try these ALL of these options. As much as I want to install some of the programs to allow remote access to my work desktop computer, I don’t really have the authority to do so. Having said that, the majority of this blog will be theoretical.

I have spent a few nights browsing through Google’s rabbit hole trying to find a best solution. There is no best option, but there are a few options.

Screens VNC

This is recommended by a lot of people. I honestly haven’t tried it yet. The main reason I have tried it yet? No mouse support. They do provide a nifty workaround. Where one can use their iPhone as a trackpad. Seems nifty, but I don’t think I want to worry about draining my iPhone’s battery to just use it as a trackpad when remoting into a desktop environment.

Screens VNC is recommended by Macstadium. A company which hosts Mac Mini’s and Mac Pros for those people who find this option as a solution to their workflow. The cost to use Macstadium’s service adds up. And for what they are charging for Mac Mini access, machines that Apples hasn’t even updated in four years, seems silly. One seems better served setting up a NAS in their home and using an app to access. But I know a number still seem to find Macstadium’s services useful. Either for a development environment or as a server hosting environment.

In order for Screen VNC to work you must enable “Screen Sharing” on your MacBook’s share setting from the Settings Menu. Otherwise you are SOL.

JumpDesktop

I did end up downloading Jump Desktop and try it out. Jump Desktop does allow a person to connect a mouse to the linked desktop via the iPad. Though, at the time of this writing, there are currently only two options available.

  1. Citrix X1 Mouse
  2. Swiftpoint GT Mouse

Since it didn’t cost to much ($60), I went ahead and purchased the Citrix Mouse1. The Swiftpoint GT Mouse was too expensive for my taste ($120), and had a strange design. I’m sure all the research concluded this design would prove useful for a number of people. But I prefer the classic mouse shape, which is way I went with Citrix.

When you get the Citrix mouse it feels like any average Logitech mouse one would find in abundance at their local Best Buy. It requires only one battery. Turn it on and connect it to your iPad’s Bluetooth first. Then just open your Jump Desktop app and remote in to your computer. You don’t have to do anything else. Jump Desktop some how automatically recognizes the Citrix mouse and connects.

Within seconds I was using the mouse like a normally would with a Desktop machine, but connected to my MacBook. Oh joy! I did have to tweak the sensitivity a bit. It was too sensitive for my taste at its default setting. But I’m already in love with this little guy!

There were no issues or pauses with the connect. Everything works smoothly. The only problem I encountered was finding the right resolution for the desktop screen from a 16:10 ratio to a 4:3 ratio. I settled on 1600 x 1200. But since that is not one of MacBook’s default resolutions I also had to download software that would allow me to use unique resolutions. I ended up using SwitchRes X. It proved to give me what I needed to help the MacBook match the ratio needed for an iPad.

Alas, the MacBook screen still looks fuzzy. As if peaking through a window with small amounts of condensation to see your MacBook. This is the rub. You have an iPad, which probably has the most beautiful screen on a tablet in 2017, but when trying to view the world of Desktop, you are forced to leave in reduced clarity.

The Others

I have tried the others. Microsoft offers its own Remote Desktop app. But I don’t currently have access to a Windows machine at the time of this writing. I have read up on it and it does have its fans. Windows would probably be easy to use on the iPad because it is now built to allow touchscreen gestures by default.

There is also TeamViewer. But TeamViewer is more for temporary access. It’s more designed for someone who is trying to fix someone else’s computer remotely. There is also Logmein, of which I’m not a fan.

I had a job once that had us use LogMeIn to remote into our Windows 7 desktop machines. I would remote in through my MacBook whenever I worked from home. Needless to say the connection was always poor, the resolution and clarity was undesirable.

Remoting

One day we might not need to remote into our work computers and using an iPad will be as powerful and useful as using a MacBook. But due to iOS’s design that may never come into fruition. I have been using the iPad Pro 12.9 since July 2017. As soon as I set it up I installed iOS 11 Beta. Granted there were a number of bugs initially, as there are on any Beta, but with each updated the bugs decreased. Now more apps are starting to update themselves to adopt the iOS 11 features.

Still that is much yet to be done with iOS to allow more advanced users to consider this as their main machine. If one were to perfect the remote app, to make it seamless and figure out a way so that the screen is crisp and clear, then maybe we might have something worth talking about.


  1. Here is a great article on using the Citrix Mouse: https://taoofmac.com/space/blog/2016/11/06/1930

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