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Remote Desktop Apps for iPad

In this article I will be looking at two remote desktop apps for iPad, that on the face of it appear similar, almost identical perhaps, but it transpires that the devil is in the detail when it comes to deciding one which you might use.


TeamViewer

TeamViewer is a relatively mature iOS app and has also been around for some time on other platforms allowing you to access the desktop of any machine that has the TeamViewer host installed. To resolve the fact that you may wish to use your Mac as a host and client, you now have the option to install the ‘full version’.  To access your Mac from your iPad install the iOS app, ensuring that it is the same version. One of TeamViewer’s attractions is that it is free for non-commercial use, with a ‘fair play price for commercial use of $99 – let your conscience decide! 

TeamViewer must be running on the host Mac

TeamViewer must be running on the host Mac


Set Up and Use

TeamViewer is easy to install and set up. As long as the application is running on the host Mac and you have set up a ‘non-attended’ password you can enter this the client (iPad) as long as you know the session ID. This is stored by the client once you have run one session making further connection much easier. Without a ‘non-attended’ password you will need to know and enter the new random password which is generated by the host for each session. Once activated you are presented with a help screen that shows a set of multitrack gestures (such as finger tap to click, pinch to zoom and so on). 

TeamViewer’s Instructions screen

TeamViewer’s Instructions screen


Dismissing this screen reveals your Mac desktop, essentially as a mirror of your current display resolution. So the mismatch of display ratios (16:9 on the Mac vs. 4:3 on the iPad) is filled in with black bars on the iPad screen. The video quality is dynamically altered to preserve speed of data transfer so is not necessarily as vibrant as you might expect. 

Controlling the Mac is easy enough once you have grasped that the mouse cursor travels at a few centimeters distance from the fingertip, which if you are regular touchscreen user takes a bit of getting used to. Some objects will be small and hard to access so luckily the zoom feature works very well, and the toolbar contains a handy buttons returning zoom level to normal (as well as a keyboard for entering text). It may interest those of you who wish to use TeamViewer as a remote control for the Mac for demonstration purposes that there is a lot of lag on the host Mac when updating mouse pointer position.

GarageBand on the Mac as viewed using TeamViewer

GarageBand on the Mac as viewed using TeamViewer


One of the great features that is accessed from TeamViewer’s toolbar is ‘Files’, which allows you to copy files from the host to you iPad and back. You can then open the files in apps that support ‘Open in’ (such as TwistedWave).

Browsing files on the Mac using TeamViewer on the iPad

Browsing files on the Mac using TeamViewer on the iPad


SplashTop

At first glance SplashTop appears to offer much the same as TeamViewer. The host application - SplashTop Streamer - is free but there is a charge for the iPad app (currently £1.99 or $2.99 on the App Store). 

The first difference is that the SplashTop Streamer installation places a small app in the Mac’s menu bar which runs continuously, making connection from a client more straightforward. SplashTop only offers the single password method of authentication, which some users may find less secure but once activated you will see that mirrored video is handled slightly differently on SplashTop. The default setting is for the host Mac to change it to display resolution to 1024 x 768 whose aspect ratio then matches that of the iPad. Optionally you can change this to 800 x 600 or to use the current resolution (the same setting that TeamViewer uses) but the default layout makes great sense in most cases. This of course changes the layout of some applications of Mac (for example Logic Pro’s transport will lose some of its buttons) but in general this is a much more usable approach for the client. 

Video quality is markedly better with no loss of colour, and almost no lag in mouse pointer response on the host, making SplashTop much more suitable as a remote control for controlling your Mac in demonstrations. 

Logic Pro viewed via SplashTop

Logic Pro viewed via SplashTop


Another subtle but perhaps persuasive difference is that the pointer on the iPad follows under the fingertip (not at a distance) which gives touchscreen users a far more natural experience. The only drawback here is that you can't see the pointer at all times as it is under your fingertip so can't always tell if it changes (to the loop tool in Logic Pro, for example). 

However SplashTop’s killer feature is that sound as well as video is automatically streamed from the host to the iPad. SoundFlower (the inter-application cabling utility) must be installed on the host Mac, but once it is, it will be selected automatically as the audio output when a SplashTop session is started. Miraculously audio and video arrive at the iPad in sync so both watching videos and demonstrating audio applications via the iPad is possible. On the negative side SplashTop does not let you copy files from the host Mac or back from the iPad.

In conclusion, as you might expect from the above, SplashTop offers the best user experience as far as remote control and viewing is concerned, but it is well worth downloading and installing TeamViewer if only for the remote file access features.

Visit the official SplashTop website.

Visit the official TeamViewer website.


Mike Watkinson

Mike Watkinson | Articles by this author

Mike has been obsessed with music software since he first saw Fairlight's Page-R, and has tracked its development through his work as a performer, composer and producer. As a writer he has contributed articles to Sound On Sound since 1999, and currently writes their Apple Notes column. As well as being a certified Logic Pro and Pro Tools trainer he is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.

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