Ever since I owned a Sony Ericsson phone which connected to my Mac via Salling Clicker, I’ve been fascinated with controlling OS X remotely. The iPhone created a fantastic device for taking remote control to a new level, and a search for “remote” in the App Store illustrates how popular the idea is.
A relatively new app on the scene is Rowmote, which takes a much more simplified approach. Rather than trying to offer a huge array of functionality, it simply replicates the controls found on a standard Apple remote. This provides a thoroughly appealing solution as Apple doesn’t always bundle remote controls with new computers.
Rowmote consists of two separate applications. As you’d expect, one goes on your iPhone and the other (a “helper app”) is installed on your desktop. The installation process is simple, although a restart was required by the desktop installer — something I’m not used to on OS X!
Provided that both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network, they should see each other immediately and initiate a connection (as shown on the right).
One of the major advantages of connecting via Wi-Fi is that a line of sight isn’t required to communicate. Whether you’re wandering around the room or happily waving your iPhone around, it should still be able to skip a track or adjust your volume.
The only aspect of the remote which goes beyond that provided by Apple is the ability to swap focus between different applications. These include Front Row, Airfoil Video, Boxee, iPhoto, iTunes, Quicktime, DVD Player, Keynote ’08 and ‘09, PandoraJam, Plex, Powerpoint 2008, Skim, Spotify and VLC.
The latest version of Rowmote also has preliminary EyeTV support, allowing you to change channels and adjust the volume. It would be great if future versions could offer full control of EyeTV via their full-screen menu (in a similar fashion to Front Row).
There are a number of other remote control applications available for the iPhone that are worth noting as alternatives.
For accessing your music and video, the first (and most popular) to note is Apple’s Remote app. This allows full control of iTunes playback, browsing of your library, and a whole range of other features. Other media-centric applications include VLC Remote for controlling the popular video player, a Boxee Remote, or jfControl for generic volume, track skipping, etc.
If you’re looking for a presentation remote control for Keynote, it’s definitely worth considering Apple’s official Keynote Remote. This is another visual treat, showing you which slides are coming up next along with any notes you’ve made. If you prefer to use PowerPoint (on Windows or Mac) it’s worth considering i-Clickr, which offers similar functionality.
Finally, a number of different remote controls allow you to actually control the keyboard and mouse of your machine. These obviously offer the broadest level of interaction, but can be incredibly fiddly to use. My favorite is Snatch, but other free solutions include RemotePad or Remote Desktop Light.
While I certainly admire the simplicity of Rowmote, in some ways I feel left wanting more. It’s great to have a low-cost application to replace a standard Apple remote, but the iPhone is capable of far more powerful and interactive connectivity (as some of the other remote applications go to show). It seems frustrating that you’re unable to interact with iTunes in a detailed level as you can with Apple’s Remote application. That said, if using Front Row, a similar level of navigation and control is possible.
Rowmote requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later, and is priced at 99 cents. It’s certainly a great deal cheaper than a replacement Apple Remote, and offers marginally greater functionality. If you’ve lost the remote that came with your Mac or want to replicate its simplicity on your iPhone, Rowmote is definitely the way to go.