Access allows iPad users to run applications on remote OS X and Windows computers through Apple's tablets.
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Mobile and desktop devices tend to be thought of as distinct things, but the boundaries between them have blurred considerably in recent years. It's not just that devices can share data through cloud services and can run virtual machines. It's that we're starting to treat devices as interfaces for computing, rather than computers themselves. Our devices may be capable of handling local computation, but that's becoming a separate consideration.
Parallels Access, a new app for iPad, exemplifies this trend. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Parallels made a name for itself creating software to let Mac users run Windows.
Access allows iPad users to run applications on remote OS X and Windows computers through Apple's tablet. Sorry, no Android. There's plenty of software that provides computer-to-computer remote access, such as Chrome Remote Access, TeamViewer and VNC. And mobile devices can do this too, through apps like LogMeIn Ignition.
What makes Access interesting is the way that it has embraced the iPad experience to operate remote desktop apps. Rather than providing a touch-based window into a mouse-based computer, Access translates iPad interface conventions to more effectively control applications designed for mouse input.
Access requires the Parallels Agent software on each computer that will be accessed from afar. The experience isn't inexpensive, however. It costs $80 per computer per year. Still, the possibilities are worth considering, particularly if you still email files to yourself.
Some things to try out ...
1. Run Adobe Photoshop On Your iPad
No, not Adobe's stripped-down iPad version. The real thing, with all its buttons, sliders and menus. Maybe you have a copy at home and would like to use it at work, or vice versa.
2. Run Microsoft Word On Your iPad
Microsoft already offers Office for iOS, but it hasn't released an iPad version. An Office 365 subscription is also required to mobilize Office. So in the brief interim before there's an official iPad option, Access provides a way to work on Word documents from your iPad. There are other alternatives, such as OnLive Desktop or CloudOn, but none at the moment that provide as true an iPad experience.
3. Copy And Paste Between Your iPad And Desktop Apps
Moving data between iPad apps isn't too much of a pain, but when you want to get data from an iPad app to an app in another device, there tend to be extra steps involving Dropbox, iCloud or the like. Access makes it much easier to move, say, text from a Word file into an iPad app.
4. Select Remote Content The iPad Way
Access makes content selection work the way you expect on an iPad. All you need is a finger and the will to choose.
5. Switch Apps More Easily
Multitasking on the iPad has never been great. Access makes it better by facilitating multitasking on your remote computer. Thanks to the App Launcher and the App Switcher interfaces, moving back and forth between apps running on your connected computer almost makes up for the single-app focus of the iPad.
6. Use Precise Controls
Remote access software can sometimes be like reading through a straw: It can be done but you don't really want to do so. Access is smart enough to let touch events affect even closely grouped controls, like window-resize panes adjacent to text selection areas.
7. Scroll Away
Access implements scrolling for remote apps the iPad way. Swipe up or down and the page responds. You don't have to worry about using application scroll bars or OS X's contextual scroll bars.
8. Upgrade Your Keyboard On Demand
Access takes the normal iPad keyboard and upgrades it with function keys and a Windows key, which you might just need when accessing a Windows PC from your iPad.
9. Use Two View Modes
You can operate your remote computer's applications as if they were iPad apps. But you can also expose the desktop interface, specifically the Windows Taskbar or the OS X Dock.
There's still room for improvement, however. Parallels Access doesn't yet provide direct file transfer between devices. And the graphics could be better on iPads with Retina displays. But those issues could soon be addressed.
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