iPhone Remote Control Apps: Reach Out and Touch Your Mac

Isn’t it the dream of every slacker to sit in bed, or at the beach, and make it appear like you are putting a full day at the office? Well, there’s an app for that.

Enter the variety of remote control apps for the iPhone, which let you operate your desktop Mac from your iPhone as if you were sitting in front of it. Some of these apps use the common VNC protocol to allow remote control, and others use their own proprietary methods. All of them will let you control your Mac (or a PC) from your iPhone.


Jaadu ($24.99)

Jaadu is the most polished and powerful of all the iPhone remote control clients. It offers SSH encrypted VNC, which is a key feature if you connect to your Mac via public Wi-Fi networks, although the SSH encryption in Jaadu doesn’t operate with Snow Leopard Macs (Jugari promises a fix soon).

The actual remote control is quite intuitive. By default, control is a combination of moving the mouse pointer and sliding the desktop behind it.  You pinch with two fingers to zoom in and out of the remote screen, and the iPhone’s soft keyboard can be used for typing. Jaadu provides a pop-up box for using modifier keys, as well as keys that don’t exist on the iPhone keyboard. It works well for limited typing, but you would not want to write an essay this way. Jaadu includes nice extras such as clipboard transfer and support for a wide variety of VNC servers, including the built-in Mac OS screensharing.  Unfortunately, you do need to modify and configure your firewall to allow SSH, but Jaadu does have software that will attempt to automatically configure it for you.


LogMeIn Ignition ($29.99)

LogMeIn’s primary feature is that it requires zero configuration of the computer being controlled, and it works securely and automatically across all kinds of networks (other remote control clients usually require manual router configuration). The software works with LogMeIn’s suite of Mac and Windows remote control products, and is a polished and powerful piece of commercial software.

After installation, you are presented with a list of computers to which you have access, and that’s all you need to configure it. The actual remote control isn’t as smooth or intuitive as Jaadu.  Your two basic modes are either the background moves or the mouse moves. Similar to Jaadu, LogMeIn has a pop-up keyboard and modifier keys.   Personally, I use this program as my preferred method of remote control because I can easily control a fleet of Macs and PCs.


iSSH ($4.99)

iSSH, like Jaadu, offers integrated encryption of VNC sessions; however, the remote control functionality seems to be thrown in as an afterthought in what is actually a very powerful system administrators’ tool, offering all kinds of remote access including SSH, X11 and telnet.

Similar to other remote control clients, you move the mouse by sliding your finger across the phone’s screen. A very nice feature iSSH offers is a “transparent” view of the keyboard, so you can type while still seeing as much of the remote screen as possible. Actual performance seemed a bit slower than LogMeIn or Jaadu, and the app appears less stable, occasionally crashing. The crashing aside, it’s overall an excellent value.


MochaVNC ($5.99) and MochaVNC Lite (Free)

The Lite version of Mocha is absolutely worthless; it works OK as a viewer, but you can’t do any normal typing, as the developers do not support the Mac’s modifier keys, such as “command,” unless you buy the full version. Neither version offers integrated encryption, and the performance was slow and unreliable. At a dollar more than the more polished and feature-rich iSSH, MochaVNC is not a good value.


RemoteTap ($4.99)

RemoteTap is a “VNC-like” application, although it doesn’t actually use a standard VNC server. Instead, you download the free RemoteTap preference pane on the computer you want to control. This preference pane is much more powerful than normal VNC servers, offering support for advanced features like command macros, multi-touch gestures, and direct access to Spaces, Front Row, and application launching.

RemoteTap’s remote control works very well, with a unique “magnifying glass” interface that expands the area of the remote Mac screen without the need for a lot of manual zooming in and out. Overall, RemoteTap is very polished and feature rich, but it is missing support for standard VNC or encryption, so it is not a good choice for those with a mix of Mac and PCs or who need to connect over the Internet.


RDM+ Remote Desktop ($9.99)

RDM+ Remote Desktop works in a similar manner to LogMeIn, utilizing a central server to enable remote control of Mac and PC desktops from an iPhone without requiring manual configuration of routers or firewalls. You install a small piece of software on the Mac or PC you want to control, and then purchase and install the app on your iPhone. RDM+ Remote Desktop provides the usual basic remote control features; you can pan, zoom, click and drag on the remote computer as well as type text. However, the controls on the iPhone felt awkward and were not as intuitive to use as many of the other remote control apps.

All of these apps have their plusses and minuses. The best value for the money is probably iSSH. The most polished commercial-grade software is LogMeIn. Jaadu is simply the most powerful pure VNC client, and RemoteTap offers some unique Mac-only functionality for LAN use in a home or office. MochaLite works well as a free viewer if you just need very basic functionality.  Which ever way you go, these apps will let you access the desktop of your Mac from anywhere, so go ahead and stay in bed and convince your boss you are sitting at the office.