Many readers ask us: "How do I set up remote access to a Mac from my iPad for free?" - especially since Mac and iPad remote-access software is now so expensive. We think the best option is Google's Chrome Remote Desktop. Here's how it works.

Remote Access is software that enables you to remote-control Mac OS X from another device. Traditionally, this other device was another Mac (either in your home, or while out and about). But in recent years it's become more commonplace to remote-access a Mac from an iPad. With the 12.9-inch iPad Pro - and to a lesser extent the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which is also designed to take the place of a laptop for mobile workers - it's set to become even more popular.

The advantages of setting up remote access are numerous. The most common use is to access files from your base computer while you're on the road, and remote-access software has saved the day for us in this way a number of times.

When it comes to the iPad Pro, it offers another key advantage. You can run OS X software remotely on your Mac, direct from the iPad. In effect this allows you to use Mac OS X software on your iPad, and with a good enough local connection it offers the best of all worlds: portability, touchscreen interaction and Mac OS X's extensive library of work-focused software. Here's Adobe Photoshop running on the new iPad Pro 9.7-inch model:

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: iPad Pro running Adobe Photoshop

There are lots of excellent iPad remote-control apps, but most of them charge a monthly fee. If you're a regular user then you may consider investing in a subscription service, but it's a bit much for newcomers.

However, there are free options on the market: these can be a little harder to set up, but many of them offer a professional range of features that stand on a par with the paid-for options.

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: installing Chrome Remote Desktop

Set up Google Chrome Remote Access

Chrome Remote Desktop is a free Remote Access option that enables you to remotely access your Mac from a Chrome web browser on any computer, or your iPad and iPhone (using the Chrome Remote app).

The installation steps are much longer than TeamViewer, but it's pretty straightforward and both free and reliable. Chrome Remote Desktop uses Google's account to sync up your Mac and iPad, so you'll need a Google account to confirm who you are. You'll also need to install Google's Chrome web browser on your Mac to set it up.

You download the Google Remote Desktop software to your Mac, and it quietly sits in the background until needed. Then you log on to the corresponding Google Remote app on the iPad, and you use the touch-screen interface to access your Mac.

  1. If you haven't got Chrome on your Mac, you can install Chrome directly from Google.
  2. You'll need a Google account. Click here to sign up with Google if you haven't got one already.
  3. Open the Chrome browser and visit the Chrome Remote Desktop on the Chrome Webstore. Click Add to Chrome.
  4. Click Add App.
  5. Click Allow in the "Chrome Remote Desktop would like to" window.
  6. Click Continue in the "Authorise" window.
  7. Tap Get Started under My Computers.
  8. Click Enable Remote Connections.
  9. Click Accept and Install in the Chrome Remote Desktop Host Installer alert. Click OK.
  10. Double-click the chromeremotedesktop.dmg file in your Downloads folder.
  11. Double-click the Chrome Remote Desktop Host.pkg icon that appears in Finder.
  12. Click Continue in the Install Chrome Remote Desktop Host window.
  13. Click Install
  14. Enter your OS X Admin password and click OK.
  15. Click Close.
  16. Return to the Chrome Remote Desktop window and click OK.
  17. You'll be asked to enter a six-digit pin to protect your account. Enter a memorable pin and click OK.
  18. The Chrome Remote Desktop Host Preferences window will open. Click the lock icon and enter your OS X Admin password and click OK.
  19. Enter the PIN you just created and click Enable.
  20. Click OK in the Chrome Remote Desktop window. Close both the Chrome Remote Desktop window, Chrome Remote Desktop Host Preferences window, and Google Chrome windows.

You are now ready to connect remotely to your Mac from the iPad.

Using the Chrome Remote Desktop app on your iPad

Enter PIN in Google Chrome Remote Access for Mac

Now that you have Chrome Remote Desktop installed and set up on your Mac, you can use the Chrome Remote Desktop app on your iPad.

  1. Download the Chrome Remote Access app from the App Store.
  2. Click Sign In.
  3. Enter your Google ID.
  4. Click the name of your Mac computer in the My Computers window. It will have .local after its name, such as "Mac-Pro.local".
  5. Enter your PIN in the "Authenticate to host" window and tap Connect.

You now have remote access to your Mac from your iPad. Tapping on the screen acts as a mouse click, or you can tap on the mouse shaped icon in the menu bar, then drag your finger around to move the mouse pointer (tap to click, and tap with two fingers to right-click). Tapping the keyboard icon enables you to enter text, with either the on-screen keyboard or a keyboard attached to your iPad Pro. Tap the Full-Screen icon to remove the menu and work on your Mac computer as if you were using a laptop.

Remote Access Mac from iPad

Tap the X icon on your iPad, or click on Stop Sharing on your Mac, to end the screen sharing session.

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad using TeamViewer

Update, 6 June 2016: TeamViewer users have reported service interruptions and security compromises, and while the nature of the problem remains uncertain - TeamViewer's official statement cites users' lax security practices and social media data breaches rather than a hack of its own servers - we do not currently feel able to recommend this product and would strongly urge any existing TeamViewer users to at the very least change their passwords; realistically you should consider whether to continue using the service for the time being. Read this giant Reddit thread, this Register article and this Inquisitr article for more details, and follow TeamViewer's main Twitter account and support Twitter account for updates and tech help. We will soon update this article with an alternative remote-access service, or confirmation that TV is now safe to use if the company is able to provide credible assurances that this is the case.

With TeamViewer installed on a Mac and the TeamViewer: Remote Control app downloaded, you can remote-control the Mac from an iPad. (TeamViewer is a free app if you're using it in a non-commercial settings, but you have to pay for business use. Which helps to explain why it's such a powerful program, despite its non-existent price tag for you or me.)

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How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: Install TeamViewer on your Mac

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: Install TeamViewer on your Mac

In order to remotely access a Mac from an iPad you first need to install the TeamViewer software for Mac OS X (on the Mac you wish to remotely control). This software connects the Mac's display to the iPad over the local network (or wider internet) so you can control the Mac from an iPad.

Follow these steps to set up TeamViewer on an iPad:

  1. Open Safari, visit TeamViewer.com and download the TeamViewer 11 software for Mac.
  2. Double-click the TeamViewer.DMG file to open the folder and follow the installation process.
  3. Click Open in the Mac OS X Alert window (the alert warns you TeamViewer is an application downloaded from the internet).
  4. The Teamviewer Initial Setup window guides you through the process of setting up TeamViewer. Click Continue.
  5. Enter a password. This is so you can access the computer from another network.
  6. Click Finish.
  7. Click on the TeamViewer icon in the Menu bar and choose Show TeamViewer.

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: Remote Access setup with TeamViewer

TeamViewer is now up and running on the Mac. You can now switch to the iPad. Do not close the TeamViewer window because you need to enter your ID and password into the TeamViewer for iPad app.

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: Set up TeamViewer on your iPad

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: Install TeamViewer iPad

With TeamViewer running on your Mac you can now set up TeamViewer on the iPad to connect to the desktop app. Here's how to set up TeamViewer on your iPad:

  1. Open the App Store on your iPad, and either search for "TeamViewer" or, if you've got this article open there, click here. Click Get > Install.
  2. Tap on Settings > Wi-Fi and ensure that the iPad is connected to the same local network as the Mac computer.
  3. Open TeamViewer and click Next and Done.
  4. Enter the TeamViewer ID and click on Remote Control. (See screenshot, below.) The TeamViewer ID is the nine-digit number displayed in the TeamViewer window on your Mac computer.
  5. Enter the Partner's Password into TeamViewer on the iPad and tap OK (the Partner's Password is the six-digit code shown on the TeamViewer window, not the password you chose earlier or your Apple account password).
  6. Click Continue on the Gestures window to be taken to the Mac's desktop.

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: The TeamViewer Partner's ID screen on iPad

The TeamViewer app now switches to a screen showing you how to control your Mac from your iPad. The TeamViewer app displays the Mac screen and you can control the cursor using the iPad's touchscreen interface. You can run OS X programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, and control them using the iPad as an interface.

How to remote access a Mac from an iPad for free: The TeamViewer controls

There are some control differences between using the touch-screen interface and the mouse and cursor of a Mac. TeamViewer uses a selection of different gestures to replicate the move and click function of a mouse. When you first start TeamViewer it will display a list of the touch interactions you can use.

TeamViewer adjusts the resolution of your display based on what it considers to be the best fit. Tap the Settings cog and Resolution to view other options.

TeamViewer isn't as straightforward as some commercial apps, and it doesn't have an interface as fine-tuned as Parallels Access (which is a free app, but requires a paid-for subscription). But TeamViewer is a free option, so if you find yourself only occasionally needing to remote access the Mac from your iPad, it's a great option.

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