My Apple apostasy comes courtesy of LogMeIn Inc.’s Ignition, an iPad application that allows me to take control of any Internet-connected computer on which I’ve previously installed a small piece of host software. While LogMeIn’s technology has been around for a while, it’s taken Apple Inc.’s new tablet to unlock its potential.
Or maybe vice versa: Although its price is hefty at $29.99, Ignition may be the first indispensable iPad productivity app.
Setup is a snap. You install Ignition from Apple’s App Store, then establish a username and password that you’ll use to sign into the LogMeIn website from each computer you want to be able to control. From the website, you download and install the needed software, a process that took me less than five minutes. The app works with both Windows-based PCs and Macs.
When you run Ignition on the iPad, you’re taken to a list of every machine you’ve enrolled. Computers that are online appear in bold; those that are offline are grayed out. Choose one, and within moments you’re looking at the desktop of your computer, right on the iPad. All your open windows, programs and files are displayed, precisely as they would appear if you were sitting at your desk. At this point, you can do pretty much whatever you want.
Doing It All
Connecting to my Windows PC in New Jersey from a hotel room in San Francisco, I updated my bank accounts with Intuit Inc.’s Quicken, used the iPad’s virtual keyboard to add a few thoughts to a memo I was writing in Microsoft Word and ran the Bloomberg Professional Service software. Accessing my iMac, I bought a song or two from iTunes, added a few entries to my Things to-do database and used the Safari for Mac Web browser to view some sites in all their Flash-enabled glory. That’s something that Apple CEO Jobs won’t allow in Safari’s iPad/iPhone version, citing security, power consumption and other concerns.
It takes a while to get the hang of navigation using LogMeIn. If you’re like me, you’ll see an icon on the screen, poke at it and expect it to respond. It won’t; you’ll first have to use your finger to maneuver the cursor to the item you want to select.
While the LogMeIn app will also work on an iPhone or iPod Touch -- a version for smartphones running Google Inc.’s Android operating system is also in the works -- the iPad’s larger screen makes it far preferable. You’re able to see the entire computer desktop all at once. The touch interface lets you pan around and zoom in if you’re finding it hard to line up the cursor with a menu selection or the X in the upper-right corner of a Windows box.
Fast and Responsive
The iPad I used had both Wi-Fi access and AT&T Inc.’s 3G data service. The remote applications were fast and responsive over Wi-Fi, noticeably slower but still usable over the AT&T network.
There are limitations. Most important, your remote computers need to be left on and connected to the Internet; if they’re shut down or offline, you’re out of luck. Some corporate networks may prevent you from downloading the LogMeIn host software or otherwise block the access the app needs. Finally, the LogMeIn app doesn’t support sound, so those Flash videos you’re running will be silent.
Security is another issue. The LogMeIn technology uses 256- bit encryption, which should keep your private data private. Be concerned, though, about prying eyes: Someone watching your remote computer might be able to see what you’re doing.
Blanking the Screen
While the LogMeIn app includes an option that lets you blank the screen of a remote computer, the feature didn’t work properly on a Windows 7 PC; there were times my actions could still be observed even though the app was telling me the screen had been turned off and locked. The company says that a fix is on the way, and that other versions of Windows aren’t affected.
LogMeIn isn’t the only iPad remote-control option out there. Citrix Systems Inc. has a free app called Citrix Receiver that’s aimed at corporate users whose companies are running Citrix software on their servers. A few other companies are selling remote software in the App Store that I found harder to set up and use than LogMeIn -- though also considerably less expensive.
While Ignition isn’t cheap, the price-tag won’t seem quite so daunting the first time you use your iPad to work on your desktop remotely, provide long-distance tech support to a frustrated family member or retrieve and e-mail yourself a forgotten file. Ignition is a big step toward making the iPad as important for mobile productivity as it is for consuming media.
Just don’t let Steve find out about the Flash.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)