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First Look: LogMeIn Ignition


This post is a first for me in that I'm typing (or tapping) it in on an iPhone using our Blogsmith CMS. No, there's not a Blogsmith iPhone app that I'm aware of, and I'm not using Safari on the iPhone to pull up our web portal. Instead, I'm controlling my office iMac from about 16 miles away using my iPhone and LogMeIn Ignition.

LogMeIn is a remote access and control application for Macs and PCs that creates a secure connection between two computers by having each logged into a secure server. LogMeIn Ignition adds the ability to control a Mac or PC from your iPhone. To test Ignition, I set up a LogMeIn Free for Mac account and then loaded the app onto my iPhone 3G. How did it work? Read on for more details.

To start with, I made my connection over Wi-Fi just to make sure that I was seeing LogMeIn Ignition at its best. I had already set up my iMac with the LogMeIn free client, signing in with the free LogMeIn account I had created. Going to the iPhone client, I logged in with the same user ID and password (see screenshot below):

Once the LogMeIn servers had authenticated my account, a list of computers running LogMeIn appeared (below left). Since I had only set up one, the only computer I saw was "Office iMac". Tapping on the Office iMac name in the list of computers brought up the information screen you see at lower right.

In case you're wondering why I don't just use Apple's Back to My Mac to do remote control of Macs, there's a very good reason -- the horrible cable modem Comcast forces me to use doesn't support NAT-PMP or UPnP, so BtMM just doesn't work! That's why products such as Mac HelpMate and LogMeIn are so useful for many Mac users. Apple could fix the issue by making MobileMe the connection server for Back to My Mac, but I'm not sure we're going to see that in the near future.

Upon tapping the Remote Control button on my iPhone, I was almost immediately rewarded with a full-screen view of my office Mac (screenshot below). From the iPhone, I opened up our CMS and tapped out the introduction to this post. LogMeIn Ignition will always start in the full-screen view, at which time you use the standard "reverse pinch" gesture to zoom in to different sections of the Mac screen.

You're not moving the cursor arrow around the virtual Mac screen; instead, you're moving the Mac screen around under the cursor arrow! When you have it lined up with an icon, a button, or an edit point, you simply tap or double-tap as if you were using a mouse (screenshot below).

To start typing, you simply tap on the virtual keyboard icon on the bottom of the screen and a standard iPhone keyboard shows up (see below). Well, almost standard. Things like automatic capitalization of the first words of new paragraphs or double-spacing to enter a period at the end of a sentence do not work. That took a little time to get accustomed to. When using the keyboard, you have Ctrl, Alt, and Cmd keys available at the top of the screen, as well as an icon that switches to function keys and other extended keyboard keys.

There are other icons at the bottom of the control screen as well. A tap on the mouse icon toggles it between right and left clicking, useful when controlling Windows machines. There's also a zoom out icon that brings the entire computer display back into sight, and a "gear" icon for changing a number of settings (see below). You can change the color quality to reduce bandwidth and memory requirements, change the resolution on the remote machine, set the network speed (I use the "Auto" setting), blank the remote screen so users can't see what you're doing, and lock the remote keyboard so users can't start typing to try to work on the machine while you're fixing a problem.

Those last two settings work in theory; I was unable to get screen blanking and keyboard locking to work. There's also a setting to make the mouse move across a static screen in case the moving screen with a static mouse freaks you out just a little too much.

Would I use an iPhone-based remote control tool like LogMeIn Ignition to support clients? It depends. If I am in a social situation and don't happen to have a MacBook Air with me, then I would definitely consider using LogMeIn Ignition to do my job from literally anywhere I have a data connection. Given the small size of the iPhone / iPod touch screen, it's not the best tool for the job but it definitely works in a pinch (no pun intended).

If Apple ever does to come out with a large format iPod touch or "iTablet", it would be the perfect device to use in order to do remote control. Such a device would be small enough to take along in social situations, but large enough to make remote control easy to accomplish.

Some early reviewers of the app complained about low memory warnings. I have seen these warnings only when starting up the application, and they've never caused an issue with connecting or controlling a remote Mac. If you are getting kicked out of a remote control session, simply change the resolution for the connection and you'll be back in business.

The only thing that isn't great about LogMeIn Ignition is the price -- at US$29.99, it's one of the more expensive iPhone applications in the App Store. I would gladly pay US$9.99 to use LogMeIn Ignition, but would not pay three times that amount. LogMeIn must be hoping that the target audience is going to be support professionals, who would gladly expense the US$30 cost to have the ability to support users from anywhere at anytime.

On the other hand, if you only need to control a home machine every once in a while, you should consider that you're getting the Mac or PC software for free (if you're using the LogMeIn Free product), which makes the combined cost of the iPhone/iPod touch and desktop software relatively painless. In my opinion, however, LogMeIn should consider lowering the price of this software.

I'm very impressed with LogMeIn Ignition, since it does a remarkable job of allowing remote control of Macs and Windows PCs from an iPhone or iPod touch. During all of the time I was testing the app, it never crashed, and even using an EDGE connection, LogMeIn Ignition was able to create and hold a solid remote control connection. I would not suggest using the app over EDGE on a regular basis, but it is good to know that you can use slow data connections in a pinch.

How does LogMeIn Ignition compare with other free or low-cost VNC solutions like Mocha VNC? It has one very saving grace, and that is that there is literally no configuration required. You just start up LogMeIn on the Mac or PC, open the app on the iPhone, enter your credentials, and it works. That is not the case with most of the iPhone VNC solutions.

Until Apple decides to make an iPhone version of Back to My Mac that doesn't require changing router settings, solutions such as LogMeIn Ignition are going to be the best bet for many Mac or Windows users who want to remotely control their computers.

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