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How to access your PC via iPad: LogMeIn Ignition

With LogMeIn Ignition, you can remotely access PCs and Macs.

View of my MacBook Pro from my iPad via LogMeIn Ignition. Matt Elliott/CNET

If you've found a new travel companion in your iPad, you are no doubt charmed by its various entertainment features, from its prowess at playing movies, music, and games to its roles as e-reader, photo viewer, and news gatherer. The iPad, however, can be more than an entertainment device. There are a number of remote desktop apps, for instance, that let you use the iPad to tunnel into your PC or laptop. So, in addition to Angry Birds Rio HD, use can use your iPad to gain control of your Mac at home or your PC at work. In this tutorial, I will walk you through using LogMeIn Ignition.

You may have used LogMeIn before to access a remote PC from another PC via a Web browser; Ignition is the company's iOS app that lets you use an iPhone or iPad. Priced at $29.99, LogMeIn Ignition is one of the more expensive apps you'll find in the app store. Considering its many features and the fact that it doesn't necessarily saddle you with a monthly subscription cost, the $30 charge begins to look reasonable. For this tutorial, I used an iPad 2 and the latest version of Ignition (2.1.299).

After installing the app on your iPad, head to the LogMeIn Web site to create an account. Then hit the Add Computer button and choose one of two services: LogMeIn Free or the $69.95-a-year LogMeIn Pro. (I chose Free.) You will then need to install a small desktop client. It works with both PCs and Macs. When installing the desktop client, you'll be asked to create an access code, which you'll then need to enter on your iPad when you connect to it.

From Ignition's home screen, you can select which remote PC to access. Matt Elliott/CNET

Once you have LogMeIn installed on the PCs and Macs you'd like to access remotely, grab your iPad, launch the LogMeIn Ignition app, and you should see your PCs with LogMeIn listed. Tap on a PC and you'll see three icons listed next to it that let you take control of the desktop, access its files, or see information about the PC.

Tapping on the display icon lets you remotely access the PC. Navigating the remote desktop feels natural, and, of course, it works best when the iPad is pivoted into landscape mode. A small mouse icon resides below the cursor, which you use to drag the cursor about the screen and perform left and right mouse clicks. A row of menu options sits at the bottom of the screen and let you call up the keyboard, common keyboard-combo functions, switch between left and right mouse clicks for screen taps, zoom in and out slightly, adjust settings, and end sessions.

As opposed to Dong Ngo's experience with LogMeIn Ignition on the iPhone, I found that on the iPad I was able to fairly accurately hit my intended target, from large desktop icons down to the small red square (Windows) or circle (Mac) to close a window. And to make sure you don't miss, you can always pinch zoom to zero in on a particular object. I found that files and applications opened quickly, though when I tried to play a video file, the playback was choppy and silent.

In settings, you can adjust the screen resolution to better fit the iPad. For systems with very fine resolutions, lowering it helps make icons and links easier to see and click on. Also, for Windows PCs, you can set it up to blank out the screen and lock the keyboard during remote access, helpful for presentations and IT support calls, where you don't want the user who is sitting in front of the computer to be able to interfere.

Ignition's file manager lets you browse the folder tree on a remote computer to open, copy, move, and delete files. Matt Elliott/CNET

From the main LogMeIn Ignition screen, you can also access a remote PC's files. Tap on the papers icon and you open LogMeIn Ignition's file manager. The view is not of your PC's desktop but a directory tree designed for the iPad's display. You can use it to quickly drill down to the folder or file you'd like to open, copy, move, rename, or delete. (Unfortunately, there isn't a way to search for a file; you'll need to know where to locate it.)

To copy a file or files, highlight your selection and tap the Copy button at the bottom of the screen. You'll then see thumbnails of your other remote PCs running LogMeIn, plus a thumbnail labeled Local Files. You can paste the copied files to one of your other remote PCs or to a folder in the Local Files screen, which saves a copy to your iPad.

You can drag and drop files from a remote PC to another remote PC or to the iPad. Matt Elliott/CNET

Lastly, LogMeIn Ignition supports wake-on-LAN, which will awaken a sleeping or powered-off PC so that you can gain remote access to it. The PC in question, however, needs to be plugged in, have a wired Ethernet connection, and one PC on your network with LogMeIn must already be online. As for Macs, they can be resumed from sleep mode but not when they are powered down.