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How to Access Your Digital Content Remotely from Your iPad

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Jason R. Rich, author of iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks, Fifth Edition, explains a few of the options for using your iPad to access data, documents, photos, and other digital content remotely, whether it's stored on your desktop computer or somewhere in the cloud.
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In today's digital age, many people use a desktop computer, notebook computer, tablet, and smartphone in their everyday lives. If you use multiple devices, you've probably experienced the ongoing and increasingly urgent need to have continuous access to all of your data, documents, photos, and files, from whichever computer or mobile device you're using, regardless of where you happen to be. To meet this need, hardware, software, and app providers are increasingly devising multiple ways to reach from one device to another and share content in multiple directions. In this article, we'll examine several ways of connecting to your most important content via the iPad.

Accessing Your Content Via the Cloud

One of the easiest ways of accessing content is to store your essential information online. Once content is securely stored in the cloud, it can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer or mobile device you happen to be using, at any given time.

For example, the Mac's OS X El Capitan operating system and the iPhone and iPad's iOS 9 have integrated functionality with Apple's own iCloud service, which can automatically back up, sync, and share app-specific data, documents, photos, and files. One of iCloud's newer features, called iCloud Drive, also allows content to be stored manually within a specific online folder in iCloud, which then makes that content accessible from any computer or mobile device linked to the same iCloud account.

Meanwhile, the latest version of Windows for PCs has built-in integration with Microsoft's own cloud-based service, called OneDrive. Using the free OneDrive mobile app for the iPhone or iPad (and/or the OneDrive app for the Mac), you can access the content stored within a OneDrive account using any compatible equipment.

In addition, independent cloud-based services such as Dropbox are compatible with PCs, Macs, and all mobile devices, allowing for easy backup, syncing, remote access, and sharing of content that's stored within an online-based Dropbox account.

Many software packages, such as those that are part of the Microsoft Office suite (Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Outlook, and so on), are now designed to work directly with one or more cloud-based services. This feature allows content created in those programs to be backed up and synced automatically with a cloud-based account, making that content accessible from the same software or app running on another computer or mobile device.

For example, when you create a document using Microsoft Word on your PC or Mac desktop computer, and the software is set to back up your document files automatically to your OneDrive account, your new document will almost instantly become accessible from Microsoft Word running on your notebook computer, smartphone, and/or tablet. This design allows you to access and continue working with the latest version of that document from whichever Internet-connected computer or mobile device you're using.

More and more software packages and popular computer and mobile device apps now support one or more cloud-based services. All you have to do is set up an account with a compatible cloud service, and then initially set up the app or software to utilize that account.

Choosing a Cloud-Based Service

In almost all cases, cloud-based services allow you to set up an initial account for free. Free accounts include a predetermined amount of online storage space. If your online storage needs exceed that initial allocation, increasing your available online storage space requires paying a monthly or annual fee.

The biggest problem most people have using cloud-based services is choosing which one(s) to use, and they wind up needing accounts with two or more different cloud-based services to sync, back up, store, and share their digital content while utilizing all of their various computers, mobile devices, and apps.

Fortunately, cross-platform compatibility has become a priority for services like iCloud, OneDrive, and Dropbox, meaning that regardless of whether you use PCs, Macs, iOS mobile devices, Android-based mobile devices, or any combination of compatible equipment, the content you store online is readily accessible, as long as your equipment has the correct software or app installed to access the specific cloud-based service(s) you use.

For example, Mac users can download software to make their computer or mobile device compatible with OneDrive, while Windows PC users can download and install the free iCloud for Windows software to gain access to an iCloud account.

One problem, however, is that many software packages and apps still support only one or two cloud services; sharing content via the cloud requires an account with the specific cloud service(s) used by that software or app. If you use multiple software packages or apps from different publishers, you might need access to two or more different cloud-based services. For example, Microsoft Office (for all hardware platforms) encourages users to use OneDrive, while Adobe software and mobile apps encourage users to utilize the Adobe Creative Cloud online service for file backup, syncing, storage, and sharing.

In the future, users will likely be able to use just one cloud-based service in order to store all of their content online, and then they'll be able to access that content from any computer or mobile device (running any software or app), as long as the equipment is linked to the same cloud-based account. Thus, cloud computing, which utilizes one or more cloud-based services for storing content, is already a viable option. As it continues to evolve, cloud computing will become even easier to use.

Accessing Your Desktop Computer Remotely from Your iPad

Instead of using a cloud-based service and ultimately storing your most important digital content in the cloud, another option is to continue storing this content on your primary computer's hard drive, and then accessing it remotely (via the Internet) from your smartphone or tablet. You can do this by using a specialized service such as Splashtop or GoToMyPC.

To use one of these options on an unlimited basis, a monthly or annual fee may apply. Plus, you'll need to acquire and install a specific app for your smartphone or tablet, install proprietary software onto your PC or Mac, and then ensure that both your computer and mobile device remain turned on and connected to the Internet in order for them to establish a remote link.

Beyond being able to remotely and securely access digital content stored on your desktop computer (or an external hard drive connected to your computer) from your mobile device via the Internet, in most cases you can remotely run software or apps installed on your computer from your smartphone or tablet. In other words, what you see when using any software on your PC or Mac's screen would also be displayed on your mobile device.

Due to the smaller screen size of a smartphone or tablet, and the short lag that's sometimes created when remotely controlling a desktop computer from a mobile device via the Internet, this solution is not ideal for everyone. However, it's a viable option if you're often away from your primary computer, and you need access to software, apps, or content stored on that computer.

Using remote-access software from an iPad makes a lot more sense than trying to control your Mac or PC from an iPhone, for example. In fact, you'll discover that this process works best from an iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro, which offers a faster processor and a larger screen (compared to the iPad mini or a smartphone).

This remote-access solution is most useful if you run software on your primary computer that doesn't have a compatible app available for your mobile device. For example, if you want to run Microsoft Word on your iPad, you're better off using the Microsoft Word app that's designed for the iPad, with the full version of Microsoft Word on your PC or Mac, as well as establishing Office 365 and OneDrive accounts, and then keeping your documents synced online using OneDrive, so they can easily be accessed from any compatible equipment you're using.

However, if you use proprietary software (such as a custom business package in your organization), and you'd like to be able to access that software from your iPad remotely, using something like Splashtop or GoToMyPC is a more viable solution.

Remote Access with Splashtop 2

Splashtop Personal is initially a free service that allows you to access a PC or Mac computer remotely from your iPhone or iPad, provided that both devices are connected to the same local network (in-home Wi-Fi).

If you want to be able to access your computer remotely from outside your home network (in other words, from anywhere via the Internet), you'll need to get Splashtop's Anywhere Access Pack ($16.99 per year) via an in-app purchase. To begin using Splashtop, visit the App Store and install the Splashtop 2 Remote Desktop—Personal app ($4.99) onto your iPhone or iPad.

Next, from your PC or Mac computer, access the Splashtop website and download, install, and run the Splashtop Streamer software on your computer. From the mobile app, create a free account by launching the app and entering your email address, setting a password, and tapping on the Create Account button.

After launching the Splashtop Streamer software on your PC or Mac, enter the same email address and account password, and then click on the Log In button. After you've followed the onscreen prompts, a secure connection will be established automatically between your iPhone/iPad and your PC/Mac. In the future, the Splashtop Streamer software will auto-launch on your computer. As long as you leave your computer turned on and connected to the Internet, remote access to it from your mobile device will always be possible. Within seconds, exactly what's displayed on your PC or Mac's screen will be displayed on your mobile device. You will then have total control over the computer and all software installed on it.

Keep in mind that any work you do as you're running software on your computer remotely from your mobile device will be saved on that PC or Mac—not on the mobile device you're using. What you see on your tablet's screen is simply mirroring your computer's screen via the Internet. Using the touchscreen, a handful of finger taps and gestures specific to the Splashtop 2 app simulate the use of your computer's mouse and its keyboard's special-purpose keys (if any).

When upgraded with the Anywhere Access Pack, Splashtop Personal is ideal for individual users. A more robust edition of Splashtop, called Splashtop Business, starts at $60 per year for use by up to 10 computers. Splashtop Business can be used for remote computer access, remote printing, and file transfers. Both the Splashtop Personal and Splashtop Business services, along with the related apps, are extremely easy to use, because they auto-configure themselves upon launch.

Remote Access with GoToMyPC

Dozens of remote-access services with proprietary apps are available for use between a PC or Mac and an iOS mobile device. While all these services offer most of the same features, giving you remote control over all aspects of your computer from your mobile device, the user interfaces, lag time, and pricing of these services vary.

GoToMyPC, for example, is an easy-to-use remote-access solution that works with the iPhone, iPad, and Android-based mobile devices, allowing them to utilize the Internet (or a local network) to access and control a Windows PC or Mac remotely. For a single user who wants to access one computer remotely from a mobile device, GoToMyPC offers a Personal plan for $10 per month. The Pro plan starts at $20 per month, and it gives the user remote access to two computers. For each additional computer, an extra $10 per month fee applies. Corporate plans are also available.

To set up a GoToMyPC account initially, you must have direct access to your desktop computer and mobile device. From the How It Works page on the GoToMyPC website, download and install the computer software onto your PC or Mac. Visit the App Store to download, install, and launch the free GoToMyPC mobile app onto your iPhone or iPad. When prompted, create an account, choose your monthly plan option, and then follow the onscreen prompts on your mobile device to establish the remote connection.

In the future, you'll be able to use GoToMyPC to access your computer remotely from anywhere via the Internet (using a Wi-Fi hotspot or cellular data connection). The faster your Internet connection, the faster the response time will be when working with software or accessing files remotely on your computer from your mobile device.

Final Thoughts

If you need access to your digital content (documents, files, data, photos, and so forth) on all of your computers and/or mobile devices, and the devices run compatible software and/or apps such as Microsoft Office, using a cloud-based service will ensure that your content is accessible and usable whenever an Internet connection is available.

However, if you need to run specialized software remotely, and you don't have direct access to a notebook computer with that software while you're on the go, a remote-access service such as Splashtop or GoToMyPC can give you access to your desktop from your iPhone or iPad. For this system to work, you must leave your desktop computer turned on and connected to the Internet when you're away, in order to establish a remote connection.

Jason R. Rich (http://www.jasonrich.com) is the author of Que's iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks, Fifth Edition, which covers how to use iOS 9 on all of the various iPhone and iPad models, including the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro. He is also the author of many other Que books, including My Digital Photography for Seniors, My GoPro Hero Camera, and Apple Watch and iPhone Fitness Tips and Tricks. Follow Jason R. Rich on Twitter or Instagram at @JasonRich7.

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