For years, there have been iPad applications that allow remote access to your Mac from anywhere in the world. Parallels Mobile, for example, was launched back in 2011 and allowed you to view your Mac and Windows virtual machines on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (and later discontinued). But these apps have always been a huge turn-off for the majority of users, since OS X isn’t built for touch screens. Trying to press small buttons, editing text, scrolling through pages and other flukes have made it impossible to use your Mac from an iOS device for an extended amount of time.
But now, Parallels has solved all of these problems and more with the new Parallels Access, their new service that makes it a breeze to connect to your Mac from an iPad and access all of your files and applications in a way that makes all of your apps feel like iOS apps – it “applifies” your Windows/Mac apps.
Launchpad for top apps
I’ve always thought Launchpad was useless on the Mac, since you can quickly spotlight the name of an application to open it up. However, in the context of an iPad, Launchpad makes perfect sense. When you select your computer, your most-used applications are shown in the regular grid view. You can also search for other applications on your computer at the top.Programs from your virtual machines also appear on Launchpad. Tap on the Windows version of Excel and it’ll boot up your virtual machine and display Excel just as if it was an iPad app. Really quick and seamless.
Going from app to app isn’t as easy as the Mac (command-tab), but they’ve made it really quick nevertheless. On the right, an app switcher icon remains on the screen at all times (unless you dismiss it and push it away) and pressing on this shows all of your open applications and their windows. Tap on the thumbnail and it’ll come up front and center.Keep in mind that the applications are running on your Mac and displaying on your iPad, so you have full access to all of your computers’ files. When you open Word, you can go to File > Open and browse through your entire hard drive to find the document you’d like to open. You can of course open the Finder application as well through Parallels Access.
- Gestures, Smart Magnification, SmartTap
If you want to scroll through a page in Chrome, just move your finger up the screen just like you would on iOS’ Safari app. To make an image bigger in Preview, just use the pinch gesture. Parallels has done a great job of making native iOS gestures ‘just work’ in the app.With Smart Magnification, you can hold down your finger in the middle of text and move along the letters while the magnifying glass comes up. In addition, if you hold your finder down in one position for awhile then it acts as a long click or a “hold” click which allows you to drag windows or graphics around.SmartTap is probably the greatest advantage this app has over other remote viewing apps. When the buttons are small – even just a few pixels wide – you can tap as closely as you can to them and the software will figure out where you meant to tap. It’s intelligent enough to know that there might not have been a button right under your finger so it’ll find the closest one.
- iOS native editing features
Selecting text will display the iOS highlighting and “pins” that show up at the beginning and end of text. The pins make it really easy to highlight more or less of the text.
The on-screen keyboard has all of the Mac modifier keys and other extraneous keys that are not normally found on the iPad. If an app requires you to hold down a modifier key while clicking, Parallels Access has no problem handling that kind of a situation.
- Dictation and multilingual keyboard selection support
There are a host of other features included, like Touch Mode support for Office 2013, security precautions that allow you to prevent others from accessing the computer while you’re viewing it through Parallels access, and more. Thankfully, Parallels offers a 14-day free trial for you to check them all out.
Setting up Parallels Access is relatively straight-forward. In addition, you don’t need to be a Parallels Desktop customer to use the new service.
On the Mac side, the Parallels Access Agent is installed and sits in the menu bar at all times. When you first install it, the app will ask if you want to change your System Preferences settings so that the computer doesn’t go to sleep (while on AC power) since the app requires the computer to be on and awake in order to work. On the iPad side, install the Parallels Access application from the App Store (link will be up soon). Once both are installed, you create or sign in to your Parallels account on both devices and right away your iPad shows the Mac(s) you’ve associated with your account.
The entire process is seamless and as straight-forward as you’d expect. Each computer requires a paid subscription, but a 14-day free trial is included and once you’ve used it for a couple of days there’s a good chance you’ll be hitting that buy button.
I was quite skeptical when I first heard about Parallels Access. After all, I wasn’t a big fan of Parallels Mobile and any other app that I’ve used to remotely access my Mac from my iPad has been absolutely disastrous. Since the iPad’s screen size is smaller than the Mac’s, navigating around required a lot of zooming in and out. In addition, the gestures were always complicated and hard to memorize. But Parallels Access is definitely the spot-on solution for remotely accessing your computer.
With each app opening up in a large size, you can easily press all of the buttons and see exactly what you’re doing. In addition, the SmartTap feature is quite, well, smart. There are times when it’ll be too smart and press buttons that I don’t actually want to press, but for the most part, Parallels has done a great job at making the system intelligent.
My MacBook Pro has actually been staying on my desk ever since I started playing with Parallels Access. Even when I’m on the couch, I’ll bring my iPad with me and remotely access my Mac to get some work done or couch surf.
On a different note, a big reason that I don’t use my iPad terribly often is due to the fact that you can’t view two apps at once. Parallels Access has a “Desktop” mode, which allows you to see the Mac’s dock, menu bar, and everything else just like you would with an older remote access app. But since you still get the SmartTap and intelligent gestures that come with the app, it’s a much nicer experience even when using the small iPad mini.
Another thing that I was skeptical about was video or music streaming. All of the sounds that come from the Mac – iTunes streaming, notification noises, etc. – are streamed to the iPad’s speakers. Somehow, it works to near perfection. Songs don’t sound perfectly crisp, but there isn’t ongoing stuttering and you can even watch Flash videos (ugh) on websites without a problem. Parallels also told me that streaming works well even in low-bandwidth conditions
Parallels Access has definitely changed how I work on-the-go. It feels like I have my Mac with me all the time.
I’ve always carried around my MacBook Pro to meetings and other outings. With Parallels Access, my back will be thanking me for replacing my computer with my iPad mini since all of my files and applications are now accessible anywhere I go. In addition, my reliance on Dropbox or other cloud file services for dealing with documents on-the-go has been reduced, which is a huge plus for me since it means less file duplication and transfers from device to device.
Parallels Access is $79.99/year/computer and available today. Once the links are live, you can grab the iPad version in the App Store and the Mac agent from Parallels’ website. The PC version of the computer agent will is also available as a beta free of charge.