Have you ever been out of your office and realized that you need to look at a file that is sitting right on the desktop of your office or home computer but that you forgot to take with you? Or maybe you need to access an e-mail that you have already moved to your office document management system for which there is no iPhone interface, so just having access to your Inbox in the iPhone's Mail app won't let you get that e-mail? Or maybe you need to look something up in a database that cannot be accessed from an iPhone? Or maybe you just want to use a website that doesn't work in Safari on the iPhone, such as a website that requires Internet Explorer? A solution to all of these problems is to view and control your PC or Mac that is sitting in your office at your home. With the LogMeIn Ignition app, you can now do all of this from your iPhone.
To start, you need a free LogMeIn Ignition account, and you need to install software on your computer(s). (There are also paid LogMeIn accounts available that include a few advanced features, but you don't need one of those paid plans to use the iPhone app.) Once you install this software, you can use any web browser on any computer to control your computer that has the LogMeIn software installed. Making your computer accessible on the Internet raises obvious security questions, but LogMeIn appears to have thought through all of these issues, as you can see on the company's Security page. When you start the iPhone app and log into your account, you will see a list of all of the computers associated with your account, such as your office PC and your home iMac. Select the computer that you want to access and enter the username and password for that computer. (By the way -- ignore all of the black boxes in these pictures; those are just my redactions to these images.)
Once connected, you will see your computer's screen on your iPhone. At first, it will be incredibly tiny of course, but you can pinch to zoom in which makes everything easy to read. By the way, I'm showing these screens in portrait mode, but you can turn your iPhone on your side if you would prefer a wider, landscape mode.
The default mode is for the cursor to remain fixed in the middle of the screen. Use your finger to scroll around to the part of the screen where you want to click, then tap once on the screen to click, or twice to double-click, or tap twice but hold down on the second tap to drag. If you need to do a right click, just tap the third of the six icons at the bottom of the screen to change into right click mode. (There is also a tap shortcut that lets you do the same thing, but I find that icon easier to use.) You can even swipe with two fingers at once to scroll a window, a gesture that will be familiar to anyone who uses the same gesture on a MacBook. If you need to type something, just tap the second icon on the bottom to bring up a keyboard. It is not a standard iPhone keyboard so it takes a little getting use to, but this is necessary because the app gives you all of the keys that you would have with a full keyboard:
The fourth icon across the bottom, the magnifying glass, can be tapped to zoom in or out. I find that zooming is usually easier if you just pinch your fingers, but it is nice to be able to tap one button when you are zoomed in to instantly zoom all the way out and see the entire screen at once. The fifth icon at the bottom brings up various settings that you can adjust. The sixth and final icon brings up a quick and easy way to Alt-Tab to switch applications or Ctrl-Alt-Del to lock your screen and perform the various other functions associated with that. (If you are controlling a Mac, the options are Command-Tab and Command-` which allow you to switch applications or switch windows within the same application.)
Here is a video from the developer that shows the app in action:
Click here for another promotional video on the LogMeIn website.
The real question for me when I contemplated buying this app was speed. Would it really be fast enough to make reasonable use of a computer from a tiny little iPhone? To my utter surprise, the answer is yes. Even on 3G, but especially on WiFi, the app is very responsive and speed was never an issue for me. The small screen size is a limitation, and you find yourself moving around the screen a lot whenever you are zoomed in enough for text to be reasonably legible, but fortunately the app is zippy when you are moving around the screen. You wouldn't want to use this app to write a long brief in Microsoft Word, but it is a snap to use this app to fix a few words in a Word document on your desktop and then use an e-mail program such as Outlook to send the file around. As a test, I even connected to my Mac and started playing a movie in half-size so that it would roughly match the size of my iPhone screen. On the iPhone, the screen refreshed quickly enough (on WiFi) that I was able to view the video on the iPhone. The frame rate was lower, and the app has no audio so I couldn't hear the video, but the movie was certainly watchable. I was amazed that it worked as well as it did.
There are a few iPhone apps out there that work very well, are incredibly useful, and really push the platform beyond anything that you thought would be possible. These rare apps can be almost magical when you first use them. Several of the iPhone's built-in apps meet this test, as does the Dragon Dictation app that I recently reviewed. LogMeIn Ignition also falls in that category. If you are in a pinch and really need to access your computer when you are away from that computer, the iPhone now allows you to do something that was previously impossible. And of course, you never know when that moment will arise, so you should consider getting this app set up now so that it is there for you when you need it. This app has been out for a while but for a long time I put off trying it, thinking that it would be difficult to use and not that helpful. I was wrong, and I wish I had purchased it earlier.
Indeed, this app has even started to change my habits. I used to frequently bring home my work laptop, especially on weekends, just in case I needed something on it. But now, I am starting to think it is better to default to leaving my laptop at work, because that way I can access that laptop both from home (using LogMeIn either on my iMac at home or on the iPhone) or if I am away from home. Just the other day, I needed to get a home address for one of my colleagues while I was running errands over the weekend. I didn't have the address in my iPhone contacts, but I knew that I could get it from my firm's intranet website, a website that only works on Internet Explorer so I couldn't even use my iPhone to VPN to my law firm and get it that way. This was no problem with LogMeIn Ignition; I just connected to my work laptop, started Internet Explorer, and then got the address. It only took about a minute. My experiences are consistent with study findings released in a set of LogMeIn promotional slides that "57% of [LogMeIn Ignition] users in our survey are ditching their laptop in favor of their iPhone with Ignition at least half the time."
As good as this app is, there are reasons to consider not getting it, at least not yet. First, if you don't mind waiting, at some point I'm sure that LogMeIn Ignition will have some real competition. There are other remote access programs for computers, perhaps the most famous being GoToMyPC by Citrix. I saw reports earlier this year that an iPhone GoToMyPC app was in development, so hopefully we will see that soon. If you use the similar WebEx PCNow, I understand that you can use the service in Safari on an iPhone, but not to control a PC; you just see a big list of the files on your PC, which depending upon your needs might be sufficient.
Also, if the $30 cost seems a bit much for you, you should know that I have seen at least two times this year when LogMeIn dropped the price to $20 for a few days. (I bought my copy during one of those brief sales.) If I see a price drop again, I'll be sure to mention it on my Twitter feed.
Finally, if even that discounted price seems too much, note that there is at least one other iPhone app that does the same thing, a $5.99 app called Mocha VNC, but I understand that it is difficult to set up and I don't know enough about security of that product to recommend it one way or the other. LogMeIn does not require you to do any complicated configuring on your computer or iPhone. It just works. For me, that ease of use makes it well worth the cost, especially considering that if you really need to access your computer in a pinch, that $30 (or $20) could pay for itself in a single use, depending upon the emergency.