Parallels Access review - offers offers unique experience offers Mac OS X and Windows software implementation on the iPad

Parallels Access is an extremely interesting new service from the experts at Mac virtualisation that allows you to access Mac and PC programs remotely.

At first glance this could be dismissed as yet another remote access option, like LogMeIn Ignition or the recently released Chrome Remote Desktop.

It’s controversial too, and not in a good way. It costs a whopping £54.99 per-year per-machine to license Parallels Access. Parallels has also killed off its cheaper Parallels Mobile app (£11.99) which offered similar, if more basic, functionality and it’s latest rival Chrome Remote Desktop is free. Hmm…

What’s so special about Parallels Access?

Parallels Access would need to be pretty spectacular to make up for the price. And in truth it does offer a very unique experience. The program ‘applifies’ (their term; not ours) the Mac OS X desktop making it functional, even comfortable, to use Mac OS X programs on the iPad.

Rather than just mirroring the Mac OS X display on the Mac Access grays out the screen on your computer, and rejigs and re-adjusts everything so you can use the programs on the iPad largelyy as you would an iPad. Make no mistake this is way beyond competitors like LogMeIn Ignition in Direct Mode.

See: Hands on with Parallels Access

Parallels Access

This is Microsoft Word running natively on an iPad

The Dock and Applications folder is replaced with an iPad Home Screen replica called the App Launcher. This displays all the Mac OS X and - if you’re also running Parallels Desktop - Windows apps. Tap one and it launches in a resized full screen mode.

You can tap menus using the usual single, double tap, and double finger tap for the right-click gesture, but SmartTap technology makes it a little more iPad-esque and it seems to make pretty good guesses as to what you’re tapping.

Perhaps most impressively is that text and items can be clicked, highlighted, and edited using iPad native-style interface elements (the Bubble ‘Cut, Copy, Paste’ interface can be used in Microsoft Word, for example). And you can cut and edit items between native iPad apps and those on your computer. It also has the magnifying glass loupe for zooming in.

See: Apple Pages 09 vs Microsoft Word

Is Parallels Access any good?

Yes. It is. Is the simple and rather unfortunate answer. We’ve used every system of remote control on the iPad, and although they all work well for access, quick edits (saving a file in a different format, and so on) and sharing files, none of them have been good enough to work with. Parallels Access genuinely makes it easy enough to power up an application on your Mac and use it from an iPad for an extended period of time. Add a Bluetooth keyboard and you’re away.

There is, of course, the problem of having a decent enough internet connection. On a local connection we found so little slowdown that the program felt native; working from a remote internet hotpoint caused a few more glitches but on the whole it worked pretty well. Your milage will vary depending on the quality of your connection. Get a good one and it’s like using an iPad with all the power of a Mac.

Adobe Photoshop Running on an iPad

Adobe Photoshop running on an iPad

We say this is the ‘unfortunate’ answer because it brings back to the thorny issue of the price. At £54.99 per-machine, per-year it’s a very expensive program. While Parallels Desktop is often used by system administrators (it’s safer to run a server or test environment in a virtual system) they will be reluctant to deploy it any further than a test machine. And it’s a lot to expect home users to fork out for just to play around with the Mac while on the road. Chrome Remote Desktop is nowhere near as functional, it’ll only help you out in a pinch, but it’s free.

Even if it was £54.99 for the app outright with unlimited machines it’d still feel expensive on the app store (which is a shame) but a yearly subscription? We think it’s too much.

BBEdit on Parallels Access

Learning Python coding with BBEdit on an iPad

Take a look at the free trial

Of course whether something is worth the money depends on how much you think you’re going to use it. Parallels offers a free 14-day trial so you can get a feel for how it’s going over two weeks and decide if it’s worth the subscription cost.

OUR VERDICT

It’s a real shame that a truly innovative piece of software that shows real transformative potential is so expensive. Compared to its free rivals, Parallels Access is the clear winner on feature count, and its ability to rejig a desktop display onto an iPad’s screen is second-to-none. Combine that with Windows apps and you can see how special this software is. Working with a Mac on an iPad is fantastic, but at £54.99 per machine per year it’s asking a lot from its customers. More than we’d pay for.

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