Parallels Access for iPad does for Windows what Microsoft didn't
It's rare for an app to come along and re-imagine computing as we know it. But not only has Parallels' new Access app for iPad done just that, but it's also accomplished what Microsoft didn't do with Windows 8 -- make Windows desktop apps more viable on a touch screen interface.
Parallels Access isn't perfect, nor can it accomplish the impossible, namely transforming a desktop app -- with its tiny text and icons and compact spacing that's optimized for mouse, not finger -- into a touch-centric experience.
However, what Parallels accomplishes is a refreshing surprise, especially in light of the design mess that is Windows 8. Redmond failed to focus on bringing the desktop into the modern touch age. With Windows 8 and its soon-to-be-released 8.1 successor, moving between the desktop and “Metro” interfaces remains a jarring experience that lacks vision and integration, and desktop apps remain a nightmare to use on all but the largest touch-screen all-in-one PCs.
By contrast, Parallels Access successfully bridges the design divide between the mobile, touch-centric iOS and the traditional Mac and PC desktop.
That Parallels should be the one to do so is less surprising when you consider the company's virtualization heritage -- Parallels Desktop has long been the best way to access your PC from a Mac. Now, the company takes that expertise to transform how you can access your desktop apps.
Parallels Access for iPad is a free app, but requires a $79.99 annual subscription fee. You'll need a separate subscription for each Mac or PC you want to access. Each computer requires an Agent app download to enable the service. The Mac Agent is available now with a 14-day free trial; the Windows Agent is available as a free beta now with a 90-day trial. I tested the beta for Windows, since there's a strong chance you're toting a PC supplied by your IT department.
Windows on iOS: Practical yet elegant
Setting up Parallels Access is simple. I installed the iPad app, set up an account, then installed the Windows beta software. I could initiate the connection via my PC, or I could initiate connection from the iPad simply by selecting my PC.
Remote access on iPad is not new: Splashtop and Dell's Wyse PocketCloud are among the many to get there first. And PocketCloud even has a mutli-option navigation wheel to simplify moving through Windows on an iPad, similar to one of the navigation tools in Parallels Access.
But the competing apps all mirror what's on your Windows desktop, in all of its small text-and-icon glory. By contrast, Parallels Access reinterprets your desktop for touch, representing your Windows software with app icons that resemble those in iOS. The result is the App Launcher, a new home screen for your computer that more closely looks and feels like the iOS home screen. You can even reorder apps by by tapping and holding to get the wiggle effect, same as in iOS (though you can't stack icons together to create a folder of like apps).
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