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TouchPad turns your iPhone into a remote keyboard and mouse for your Mac

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

TouchPad [iTunes Link] is my new best friend. It allows you to control the mouse and keyboard on your Mac through your iPhone, as well as Front Row. It is currently on sale in the App Store for $1.99 (50% off) for a "limited time" so you may want to grab it while you can.

At the end of most days, I settle into bed to watch a little TV on my iMac through EyeTV. Last night I was all snuggled under the covers when I realized that I had left the mouse pointer over the video window. EyeTV kept thinking that I wanted to move the "time scrubber" and so it kept popping up the on-screen overlay.

Most of the time I keep an Apple Wireless Keyboard on my nightstand in case I need to control my iMac from bed (don't you judge me!) but the batteries had run out. I pulled myself out of bed, went to the kitchen where the batteries had recharged, put them into my keyboard... and they still didn't work. So I spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out why before I finally gave up.

All I really needed to do was move the mouse off-screen. If I had TouchPad, I could have done that.

When I viewed the webpage and iTunes listing for TouchPad, I wasn't clear how it worked. Turns out it is very simple.

By default, TouchPad works like a touchpad on a Mac laptop. Drag your finger around the iPhone screen and watch the mouse move across your Mac (yes, it supports multiple monitors).

Tap the keyboard icon and the usual iPhone keyboard will appear with the addition of several special keys: escape, tab, shift, control, option, and the classic Mac "cloverleaf" command key. These special control keys are used when you want to access keyboard shortcut such as cmd+space to bring up Spotlight.

Tape the "Play/Pause" icon and you will be presented with what looks like a regular Apple remote control; however, it will only control Front Row. Click "Start" and Front Row will launch on your Mac, and then you can use the TouchPad controls to navigate. Press Quit to exit Front Row.

I was disappointed to see there are no Function keys, making it impossible to change the brightness, or use the play/pause, fast-forward, rewind media keys, or even trigger Exposé or the Dashboard. You can adjust the volume settings if you have it in the menu bar, but that would be a pretty precise "hit" from across the room. It would be a good addition to add a third icon up near the existing two in the top-left (keyboard and Front Row remote) to add the "fn" key plus F1-14 and an eject button.

That said, for $2 this app is a steal. It works quickly, the setup instructions are very straightforward. You can easily control multiple Macs. It supports Leopard and Snow Leopard using Screen Sharing, and it also supports Tiger using Apple Remote Desktop settings.

A quick search of "VNC" in the App Store results in about 25 applications, including Jasdu VNC which appears to be a full VNC client which will put your computer screen on your iPhone (see its website for more information). Very cool, but a costly $25 far more than I would spend without being able to try it out first. (Dear Apple: please give developers a way to offer time-limited demos so we can "try it before we buy it!")

I have not tried all of these VNC applications (I'm sure TUAW readers will let us know in the comments which ones we should check out) but TouchPad is going on the home page of my iPhone, and my Apple Wireless Keyboard has lost its spot on my nightstand. (Another TUAW favorite is HippoRemote which you'll be hearing more about soon. You might want to check it out too!)

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