Turning your iPad into a real work machine

Paul Boag

Apple have always advertised the iPad as more than a content consumption device, but in reality working on it has never been very practical. Could Parallels Access change that?

I travel a huge amount for my work. I am either working with clients or attending conferences and the constant bane of my life is power. You can therefore imagine the appeal of being able to work from my iPad with its 10 hour battery life and lightweight form factor.

However, despite Apple’s claims the iPad falls short as a work machine. The keyboard issue can easily be overcome by buying a keyboard smart cover, but that still leaves one major problem.

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover
Adding a keyboard to an iPad does make it a more effective work machine, but its not enough.

Not designed for heavy lifting

The problem is that the vast majority of apps for the iPad are not up to any kind of heavy lifting. If you are writing then things are great, but once you start wanting to design or code, the options are much more limited. Image editors are focused on photography, not web graphics, and coding tools like Diet Coda can’t run local copies of the site you are working on.

In short the iPad is not cut out to run real software.

That is where Parallels Access comes in. Parallels Access is an iPad app that allows you to connect back to your desktop computer and use its software like they were native iPad apps.

Parallels Access is the best in breed

Admittedly Parallels Access is not the first application for the iPad to do this. For a while I used Screens that does a similar thing and it does a reasonable job. However, you found yourself for ever zooming in and out in order to use fiddly OSX or Windows controls.

Parallels Access on the other hand takes a different approach. It effectively turns your desktop software into iPad apps by introducing native iPad controls and overlaying an iOS like home screen.

Parallels Access does a superb job at making Windows and OSX apps feel like they belong on the iPad.

Suddenly this opens up a world of possibilities. Now you can use any piece of Windows or Mac software on your iPad. Presuming you have a half decent connection, you will find they are responsive and relatively painless to use.

You can easily edit code, test websites and even do basic design work, all from your iPad.

This doesn’t just apply to software we use as web designers. I was discussing Parallels Access with Mike Marotta and he was explaining how he was able to use it with his students who have various disabilities. Parallels Access allowed them to use assistive technologies only available on the desktop. You can easily imagine the freedom and flexibility this provides.

I also use it at home to manage my media server. Because this server doesn’t have a screen or keyboard, I can quickly access it with Parallels Access to install updates or manage iTunes.

The downside

Of course it’s not perfect. Some of the controls take a bit of getting used to, especially the magnifying glass that allows you to use smaller controls.

The biggest problem is the price. At £54.99 per year it’s a hefty commitment especially for a freelancer. Worse still that price is per machine it runs on!

At that price it leaves me with very mixed feelings. There is no doubt that this is a stunning app that is far superior to the competition, but I am just not sure it is worth the cost when my macbook air is in many ways more convenient.

That said, if I was a server administrator I might be tempted. Also if I could just expense it to the business then perhaps I wouldn’t care as much.

This is the kind of application I would happily pay £55 for as a one off cost and maybe even with the limitation of using it only with one machine. However, an annual subscription just feels a step too far.

What do you think? Have you tried it and liked it? Is it worth the cost? What uses do you see for this software? Let me know in the comments and you might just win yourself one of four subscriptions I have to give away.