The idea of a VNC client on a touch screen device can seem a bit daunting. Tapping, after all, is not the same as clicking something with a mouse, and tapping and dragging on a touchscreen can be unnecessarily painful if you’re trying to control a remote computer. In the event that someone, somewhere needs my help, I’ve tried several VNC apps for iOS in an effort to avoid hauling my Macbook Pro everywhere. Most of these apps are clunky and unreliable, but Edovia’s Screens for iOS is the exception: It offers some unique features that make connecting to and controlling remote computers from an iOS device nearly painless.
Screens can control any computer with a VNC server running, so you can use your iOS device to connect to and control Macs, PCs, Linux-based machines, and nearly any other computer. What sets Screens apart from other VNC apps is just how easy it is for you to work on a remote computer while using a touch screen. Screens does this by offering a number of useful tools and shortcuts. For example, if you keep your Dock hidden, there’s no need for you to try to hover the cursor over the edge of the screen until it appears; instead you can use Screens’ Pull-to-Dock feature which reveals a hidden Dock when you swipe toward the center of your desktop from where the Dock is hidden. The app also has a specialized keyboard that offers shortcuts for Spotlight, text selection, Command, control, option, and a full complement of function keys.
What makes Screens effective as a VNC tool is the fact that it pays no attention to where the cursor is on the remote screen, but instead responds to where you’re tapping. So there’s no need to drag your finger from one end of the screen to the other to get the cursor where you want it. Instead, you just tap what you want, and the remote cursor goes where you tap; if you tap a button or a menu item, that sends a click to the remote computer. A pinch gesture zooms the screen, while a swipe moves you from one side of the screen to the other. Drag up or down with two fingers on a long document or a web page, and it will scroll up or down on the remote screen. Tap something with two fingers, and contextual menus will appear. In short, Screens controls your remote computer in ways that you expect it to and—most important—in ways that aren’t frustrating.
It’s important to note here that Screens is a universal app that will run on any iOS device, including your iPod touch or iPhone. While screen space on these smaller iOS devices is extremely limited, and while those size limitations make it challenging to work on a remote computer for an extended period of time, I found that Screens was more than capable of handling the kinds of tasks that require a quick look before you can get back to your desk.
I only have two complaints about Screens—one on the Mac side and the other on the Windows side. For the Mac, if you’re running Lion on the remote computer and there are full-screen apps running, there is currently no “secret” swipe available that will reveal the menu bar and allow you to exit full-screen mode. You can work around this by tapping Screens’ control button and then using the arrow buttons to open Mission Control or flip between open apps, but a simple swipe similar to what you use to reveal a hidden Dock would be beneficial addition. When using Screens to control a Windows computer, there wasn’t a time when I was using the application that I could get Screens to completely redraw the remote screen, so I often ended up with vestigial windows that appeared to be open, but which had already been closed on the remote computer.
Screens is an excellent touch screen-based VNC client that makes the task of managing remote computers using your iOS device a simple pleasure. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t find myself using the app. If quick access to remote computers is your stock in trade, I promise you’ll also find Screens to be an indispensable tool.
Jeffery Battersby is an Apple Certified Trainer, (very) smalltime actor, and regular contributor to Macworld. He writes about Macs and more at his blog.